Justin Baker heads over to his quarterback’s house, and, again, they play the tape of the Kennedy Catholic football team’s season-ending 65-35 loss against Puyallup.
They love the re-runs of their huge plays, such as Sam Huard tossing the first touchdown of the game for 78 yards. And Baker says it’s so fun to see their gaudy, Air Raid offense compile 526 passing yards against one of the state’s best teams in that playoff game a year ago.
But each time he watches, what he really yearns for is to suit up again.
“Sam and I, I’ve watched that game with him at his house so many times,” Baker said. “It’s just frustrating that we can’t just go out and play that for real again.”
That’s why coach Sheldon Cross says the spotlight should rightfully be on Kennedy Catholic. This isn’t a team just loaded on paper, he says, but one that’s hungry to join the ranks of state contenders in a seemingly wide-open 4A classification.
Union is the reigning state champ, but the Vancouver school lost 34 seniors. Puyallup lost 32 seniors, including quarterback and Gatorade state player of the year Jacob Holcomb. Lake Stevens could make a repeat run to the title game, but it’s replacing its quarterback as well as standout lineman Devin Kylany, a WSU commit.
But Kennedy Catholic? It has every returning starter back on defense and all but two back on offense.
It returns Huard, the legacy UW commit who has thrown for more than 7,500 yards and he hasn’t played a down of his junior year yet. Baker recently committed to Cal, and he’s got two pass catchers alongside him in Jabez Tinae and Junior Alexander who had more than 1,000 receiving yards a year ago.
Together they helped the Lancers average more points per game than any other Class 4A school in the state (49.7).
And Sav’ell Smalls, the No. 9 ranked recruit in the country for the 2020 class by 247Sports, transferred back to Kennedy from Garfield this summer.
That’s why it’s no coincidence the Lancers open the season with a nationally televised game on ESPNU against Bethel on Sept. 6 at CenturyLink Field.
“Our expectations are the highest they’ve been,” Baker said. “Last year we had expectations, but now, especially with Sav’ell back, a lot of people have things to say about our team. A lot of good and some bad. But it’s all good because our expectations right now are high.”
The question some ask of Kennedy’s preseason hype: What has it done to deserve it?
The Burien school reached the Class 3A state title game in 2006 when it lost to Bellevue, but it hasn’t had much postseason success since and has never won it all. It used to play in the now-defunct Class 3A/2A Seamount League before moving up to the 4A NPSL.
“I’m telling you, though, this is the most absurd returning group we’ve had,” Cross said. “These guys have been taking things in; they were thrown into the fire to play varsity games and they’ve made it through the coals and they’re all back and ready to go.”
Must a case really be made for Eastside Catholic, the no-doubt-about-it favorite?
The better discussion is who even has a chance against the school that won its four playoff games by an average of more than four touchdowns (29 points). And the Crusaders return just about everyone down to their water boy from their championship run, including Ohio State-bound receiver Gee Scott Jr., top 2021 recruit J.T. Tuimoloau and the reigning Class 3A player of the year, Sam Adams (a UW commit).
Maybe it’s up to Monte Kohler’s crew at O’Dea, which replaces most all of its skill position players from its loss to Eastside Catholic in last year’s title, but is experienced up front.
But the better bet might be Lincoln, the Tacoma school that has reached the state playoffs five consecutive years and has been itching to finally beat a Metro League school and solidify itself as a true state power.
The Abes return Julien Simon, the four-star athlete entering his junior season, alongside a group that is mostly returning juniors and seniors. And Donovan Clark recently committed to Boise State as a defensive back after transferring to Lincoln from Sumner this summer.
One player does not make a season, but one seemingly simple June scrimmage changed the entire landscape of the Class 2A football picture.
That’s how scintillating UW commit Sawyer Racanelli has been for Hockinson on its way to back-to-back state titles. But Racanelli was running routes two months ago when he suffered a season-ending ACL tear.
State hardware still runs through the Hawks until proven otherwise, especially with 6-foot-5 Peyton Brammer, who had 1,013 receiving yards a year ago, and Levi Crum entering his senior year at quarterback.
But the door is open for Steilacoom, which has never had a player like Emeka Egbuka, a five-star receiver and one of the nation’s top-ranked 2021 recruits, leading the charge.
Or if you’re not sold on unproven programs, Tumwater should have its best shot at returning to a title game since legendary coach Sid Otton retired and Bill Beattie took over last season. Its line should be among the most physical around, led by Viliami Hafoka, a returning all-state pick.
What Royal looks like without Kaden or Sawyer Jenks slinging footballs over mountains is anybody’s guess.
But even with the younger Jenks graduating and the Knights coming off a stunning semifinal loss to Colville that ended their 53-game win streak (which was just shy of Bellevue’s 67-game streak that ended in the 2015 state title game), they should be right back in the mix in 2019 with a returning backfield that includes two-way standout Lorenzo Myrick and Tyler Allred.
The question: Does Colville have enough in the tank to, again, rival Royal and repeat its state-championship run?
If Kalama wants to become the first school to win three consecutive Class 2B state titles since DeSales did that from 1997-99, it has to do so behind a lot of sophomores.
It will also have to do that without since-graduated star quarterback Alex Dyer, the reigning 2B player of the year who threw for almost 6,500 yards the past two seasons. The Chinooks’ projected 2019 quarterback moved to Oregon, so the plan is to slide receiver Jackson Esary, one of those sophomores, under center.
But could Onalaska, which last won the title in 1986, be the dark horse? Or maybe a junior-heavy Chewelah or coach Josh Fluke’s high-powered offense at Pe Ell/Willapa Valley are ready to take the throne.
Until someone beats Odessa, the Tigers are the team to beat.
And good luck to whoever runs into them, especially with Marcus King, the reigning Class 1B player of the year, at linebacker and back in the backfield after rushing for 1,539 yards and 29 touchdowns (averaging 14.9 yards per carry) in last year’s 14-0 season that ended with Odessa’s first title since 1989.