After an offseason that saw penalties levied against the program, the Wolverines finally play their first game Friday against powerful Tumwater.
Blake Jones flashed a rare smile as he reminisced about his football career.
“I’ve been playing with the same quarterback since fourth grade,” the Bellevue senior fullback said of teammate Jack Enger. “We were just standing out on the field and I said, ‘You know, we’ve been doing this for eight or nine years.’ He said, ‘Yep, and this is the last one.’ ”
The Wolverines have yet to play a down and the final season is already one the senior class doesn’t want to end this way. A yearlong probe into the football program resulted in sanctions and a postseason ban that forced Jones and his teammates to rethink their plans for their senior year.
BHS plays Tumwater on Friday in its season opener. It’s among the best matchups in the state this week. Bellevue is ranked No. 2 in Class 3A in The Seattle Times’ state rankings, while the Thunderbirds are second in Class 2A.
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It’s Tumwater’s third game of the season, winning its first two by a combined score of 126-42. And only Tumwater will be eligible to redeem a heartbreaking second-place finish in the 2015 state-championship game.
Due to multiple rule violations, the Wolverines are playing the first of an abbreviated six-game schedule Friday. Coach Butch Goncharoff was placed on “nondisciplinary” leave. And Bellevue, which has won 11 championships in the past 14 years, has a two-year ban from postseason play.
“We were crushed,” said Justin Angelel of not being able to redeem a 48-42 overtime loss to Eastside Catholic in the state title game last year. “We had to turn the page, and we’ve got what we’ve got. We’re going to show it’s not about how you cut us down. It’s not about what you think we are or what you think we do. It’s about how hard we work.”
It wasn’t until mid-July that the Wolverines felt like a regular team again. Although Goncharoff and the program’s booster club have filed their own lawsuits, the district dropped its appeals in August.
Mark Landes, the former special-teams coach, will serve as Goncharoff’s replacement this season. He said he’s impressed by how the players have moved on to prepare for the season.
Jones said the senior class imposed its own bans, such as forbidding players from reading or watching news clips about the case, posting about the investigations on social media or having conversations with classmates about the sanctions. He and Angelel are team spokesmen, limiting answers to the season.
“It’s a different type of environment,” Angelel said. “We’re focused on caring for one another and playing football for one another rather than playing football for anything outside of our teammates.”
The Wolverines graduated all-area stars Marquis Deweert, Omar Dyles and Isaac Garcia. But the senior class has a bond that will carry Bellevue through an already challenging season, their spokesmen say.
“Everyone is ready to get back to football,” Jones said.