After forays into the state tournament as 2A and 3A school earlier this decade, the Spartans are looking to make a splash in 4A.
SUMNER – Touches of the past still dot Sumner.
Stencils of yellow daffodils are painted on streets, symbolic of the flower that grows in abundance in the town east of Tacoma. There are century-old homes off a quaint downtown hub. And a sense of community remains rooted in Friday nights watching its namesake high-school football team.
But Sumner is booming. In three years, it’s advanced to the state tournament in three different classifications due to student enrollment. The Spartans reached the Class 2A quarterfinals in 2013 and lost first-round games the past two seasons in Class 3A.
When: Friday and Saturday.
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Top storylines: KingCo is the top league in Class 4A football with four teams in the first round. But the bracket has conference rivals Eastlake and Skyline playing Friday. The Spartans won the regular season game, 17-14. ... Sedro-Woolley is traveling the farthest of all state competitors (350 miles) for its Class 2A opening-round game at Pullman. ... Defending champs Gonzaga Prep (Class 4A) and Prosser (Class 2A) lost preliminary-round games, assuring new champs in those classes. ... O’Dea hasn’t won a state playoff game since 2013. ... Monroe hasn’t reached state since 1991 and is 0-5 all-time in the tournament.
Top players: RB Micah Smith 6-0, 190, Graham-Kapowsin; DB Ben Wilson 6-2, 215, Sumner; QB Jack Colletto 6-3, 220, Camas; OL/DL Dante Powell 6-6, 300, Richland; WR Hunter Bryant 6-3, 240, Eastside Catholic; QB Jacob Hommes 6-0 195, Lynden.
Favorites: Lake Stevens (4A), Lincoln (3A), Archbishop Murphy (2A), Liberty (Class 2A), Royal (Class 1A).
Last: Competitive advantages for private schools sparked debate in October. But only seven private schools are among the 80 total playoff teams in five classifications.
Sumner begins a foray in the Class 4A tournament Friday. The Spartans, ranked No. 3 in the final Seattle Times poll, host No. 9 Monroe at Sunset Chev Stadium.
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“They think we’re the first team in state history to go undefeated in 2A, 3A and 4A and win the league titles within a four-year period,” said coach Keith Ross of the 10-0 South Puget Sound League champions.
“I think we’re the only one because we’re the only one that’s actually made the move,” he said with a slight laugh.
Why families are moving to Sumner is hard to quantify. Why the Spartans are a favorite to win state despite having not played in any title game since 1977 is dotted throughout the roster.
And the players know it.
“We’ve earned the right to be confident,” said Ross, who’s coached the team since 2002. “It’s a combination of lots of talent and lots of pride. These kids have had good success over the last three years, and they feel like this is their year. It’s earned swagger.”
Swagger billows to a rocker vibe in Sumner. Players remove their helmets after a grueling practice and long hair, curls and afros sprout. Ross leads with his shaggy, greying shoulder-length hair.
“It’s Sumner’s identity,” senior running back Connor Wedington said. “If you go here, you grow out your hair.”
Wedington, a University of Washington commit, is another key to the Spartans’ football identity. He’s a quiet leader with a running style that draws roars from the crowd.
Wedington is dealing with a sprained right shoulder, which doctors said he can’t worsen by playing. He rushed for 1,341 yards and 17 touchdowns on 136 carries this season. He’s teamed in the backfield with junior Tre Weed, who accumulated 909 yards and 12 touchdowns on 108 carries.
“But if you’re going to send eight or nine guys in the box to stop our run-game, that’s just disrespectful,” Wedington said. “Sumner has a lot more players than just me and Tre. It takes our whole team to do this. We can change it up.”
Under center is Ross’ son Luke. The junior quarterback completed 83 of 128 passes for 1,393 yards, 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions this year.
Add junior middle linebacker Ben Wilson’s team-leading 96 solo tackles and five sacks as the defensive leader, and it’s clear why Sumner has its swagger.
The Spartans were ranked this season as one of the top teams in the West region by MaxPreps, heading into state as No. 22.
“We’ve come a long way,” Wilson said. “It wasn’t that long ago that Sumner barely won any games. This is a good team, and Connor, he’s just special. He has excellent vision and is like the superhero of the town, basically.”
Whether Sumner can take its small-town success to the big stage is now the question.
“In all aspects of football, whatever level, everyone is always sleeping on Washington,” Wedington said. “It happens with Sumner, too, and it bugs me. It keeps us humble, though, because people are going to doubt you no matter what, but I truly believe hard work pays off.”