The much-recruited running back is taking his grandfather’s words to heart.
KIRKLAND — Poppa’s whistle can be heard over everything.
Dennis Brown, always seated in corner nooks of football stadium bleachers behind his grandson’s Juanita High team, uses the distinguishable sound to alert the budding running back of a coaching tip. Now one of the top recruiting prospects in the nation, Salvon Ahmed recalled the one time he dismissed the grandfather he affectionately calls Poppa.
“Aw man, Gramps, do you know what you’re talking about? You’re an older guy,” Ahmed bemoaned as an eighth-grader on the Junior Rebels squad.
Five players to watch
RB/DB, 5-11, 180, Sr., Juanita
Outlook: Reigning KingCo 3A/2A Offensive Player of the Year clocked a 4.32 in the 40-yard dash at a Nike camp.
WR/LB, 6-1, 195, Sr., Juanita
Outlook: Physical player who had 10 tackles-for-loss last year and improved his speed and leadership qualities.
QB, 6-1, 180, Sr., Lake Washington
Outlook: Third-year starter is poised for a breakout season after being an honorable mention on the all-KingCo team last year.
TE/DE, 6-3, 203, Sr., Lake Washington
Outlook: Prefers the defensive side of the ball, totaling 50 tackles and seven sacks as an all-conference first-team pick last year.
K, 5-11, 165, Sr., Bellevue
Outlook: A second-team all-KingCo selection last year, is revered for his strong leg and accuracy under pressure.
It was time for the letters and VHS tape. Both in black-and-white, the documents provided a colorful story of Ahmed’s lineage in the sport. How Ahmed could better handle being on the cusp of greatness entering his senior year.
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In addition to Ahmed, the 2015 KingCo 3A/2A Offensive Player of the Year, Juanita returns enough key pieces to build from last season’s first state quarterfinals run since 1989. It hosts Mount Si on Friday to open the season.
“We sat down and watched them and I was like, ‘You’re good. I’m trying to be like you,’ ” Ahmed, a 5-foot-11, two-way player, said of Poppa’s game film. “I do a lot of it (play football) for him. Hopefully he can see all of my accomplishments and everything and be proud.”
Brown, 71, was an all-state halfback in his native Kansas. Poor grades prevented him from accepting a scholarship to Kansas or Michigan, but Brown shined at College of Emporia. His junior season in 1967, he rushed for 823 yards in eight games and led the Kansas Conference in scoring with 11 touchdowns.
The performance caught attention from the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers. All sent letters to Brown’s home in Herington, the Cowboys following up with a visit where Brown was told the team wanted him as a late-round draft pick.
“Like a fool, I dropped out of school; I thought I had my road to the NFL,” said Brown, who was instead drafted into the military during the Vietnam War. He was stationed in Germany and finished his service at Fort Lewis, ultimately building a home in Kirkland.
With a 3.8 GPA, Ahmed received his first athletic scholarship offer from Montana State as a freshman. He narrowed his list to Notre Dame, Oregon, Stanford, USC and Washington in July.
After rushing for 1,800 yards and 29 touchdowns as a junior, Ahmed still receives offers daily. Some unopened, the letters have filled three laundry baskets.
“I do live through Salvon, but he’s a much better athlete,” said Brown, who enjoys reading the offers. “I was always told I had good speed, cut real well and had good vision of the field. But the way (Salvon) cuts, sees people, protects the ball well, and his speed — he’s a gifted football player.”
KingCo 3A/2A five teams to watch
Lake Washington: Lost 27 seniors to graduation but has the pieces for a strong passing game and formidable defense.
Juanita: Made first state quarterfinals appearance since 1989 and Rebels are eager to show they’re better than the 73-28 exit.
Bellevue: Playing a stunted schedule and banned from postseason play due to an offseason investigation into the storied program.
Redmond: Returns to Class 3A competition for the first time since 1997; was 1-8 in KingCo 4A play last year.
Sammamish: Can the Totems stay healthy after forfeiting five games due to a rash of injuries to 12 players last season?
Adding to Juanita’s quickness on both sides of the ball is 6-1 senior Dean Sise, who committed to Navy. Dexter Mell, a 6-2 senior quarterback, will run the team.
The Rebels are pegged to win the conference title due to investigations into Bellevue’s football program that resulted in a postseason ban. The Wolverines, who have won 11 state titles since 2001, will play a six-game schedule.
“A lot of folks that I’ve talked with, they expect them to be like, ‘they’re not the Bellevue of old,’ ” Juanita coach Lele Te’o said. “You can’t erase a culture overnight. I have no idea how much those other coaches were involved … but with the kids, they play hard.”
Inspired by his grandfather’s steps and missteps, Ahmed said he worked even harder to make this season special.
“He pushes all of us and makes you believe in yourself,” Sise said of Ahmed. “We’re looking forward to playing alongside him.”