The last time football shoulder pads were popping with conviction at the high school level was last year’s Gridiron Classic – the state championships in the Tacoma Dome.
That first weekend in December saw Skyline end Bellarmine Prep’s bid for its first Class 4A state title, Bellevue continue its amazing run in 3A with a fifth consecutive crown, and Lynden’s senior class add another title during one of the most impressive football-basketball-baseball runs in state history.
But Wednesday, it starts all over. It is the first day of football practices in the state of Washington.
Here are five story lines worth monitoring heading into the 2013 season:
1. CAMAS PAPERMAKERS COULD BREAK UP MONOTONY
Over the past five years, Skyline (4 out of 5), Bellevue (5 out of 5) and Lynden (4 out of 5) have captured the state football title a combined 13 times.
Who has the best chance to be unseated in 2013?
Still loaded with NCAA Division I talent, Bellevue is a heavy favorite to claim a sixth consecutive 3A crown. Lynden is expected take a step back, but there is no overwhelming contender to take the Lions’ place.
That leaves Skyline, which saw Max Browne, arguably the nation’s top quarterback prospect of 2013, head off to USC. Many of the Spartans’ key receivers are gone, too.
Equally important is that 4A features a powerhouse in Camas.
The Papermakers return three all-state performers in receiver Zach Eagle, offensive lineman Drew Clarkson and tailback Nate Beasley. And two more players – quarterback Reilly Hennessey and linebacker Michael DiGenova – are all-4A Greater St. Helen’s League returners.
Camas is The News Tribune’s top-ranked team in its initial state rankings for this season.
2. BEST TO THINK SMALL
After reaching the state semifinals four times previously, Bellarmine Prep finally broke through to advance to its first 4A title game, losing to defending champion and top-ranked Skyline, 49-24.
Who from the South Sound is ready to take that kind of step?
The best bet should come in wide-open Class 2A. Aside from 2012 Evergreen Conference player of the year Andrew Brown, state runner-up Tumwater returns the bulk of its skill-position threats, and has a fantastic pair of linebackers with Addison Barrett and Tyrus Snow.
And pay attention to defending SPSL 2A champion Sumner, which should be very physical on defense with linebacker Austin Striplin, and feature a high-flying offense with quarterback Chase Torgison, receiver Austin Gregg and tailback DeJon Lynch.
In 1A, if quarterback Jaelin Goldsmith has the bounce-back season everyone expects, Cascade Christian should be in the mix.
3. PASS-HAPPY IN MAPLE VALLEY
Tony Davis will be the first to admit he is no passing-game guru.
His Tahoma High teams have always been run-first, run-second ... and run-you-over eventually.
But the preseason SPSL North favorite Bears are now in their second season of a switch to the spread offense. A big reason for that is senior quarterback Shane Nelson.
The list of elite gunslingers is short: Puyallup’s Brendan Illies has a cannon arm and should get his yardage in the SPSL South.
And so should breakout candidates such as Graham-Kapowsin’s Trevor Asbjornsen (SPSL South) and Torgison (SPSL 2A).
None combine the intelligence, experience and competitiveness of Tahoma’s Nelson, who threw for more than 2,400 yards last season, including four 300-yard passing games.
“He has the ability to make all the throws,” Davis said. “What is so important is his decision-making. And what separates him from others is his accuracy, whether it is on long or short throws, and his decision-making.”
It helps he has one of the area’s best receivers in Deshon Williams, an SPSL North player of the year candidate.
4. ‘BIG’ POSITION OF DEPTH
Teenagers in Washington aren’t usually known for their feistiness getting after ball carriers from the line of scrimmage, but one thing is for certain this season – the crop of quality defensive linemen is plentiful.
Bellevue’s Shane Bowman (Oregon State) and Marcus Griffin (Washington State) have already given oral commitments to big colleges. They will likely be joined by O’Dea’s Jarius McDade, Fife’s Monike Failauga (and possibly teammate Kaleb McGary on that side of the ball) and Kentlake’s Mason Johnson.
Then there is the junior duo of Benning Potoa’e of Lakes, and Deion Fetui of Eastside Catholic.
Already 20 pounds heavier, and a bona fide leader of the defense, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Potoa’e is a candidate to make that push into the top overall recruit for 2015 at defensive end.
“Last year, we did a poor job of utilizing him. He was on the strong side, and we allowed teams to double team him,” Lakes coach Dave Miller said. “This year we are going to put him on the quick side.”
5. THINK, BUT DON’T LEAD, WITH THE HEAD
Player concussions will always be a point of concern, which is why over the past few years the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has cracked down on leading-with-the-helmet tackles.
As part of the changes, every coach in Washington was required to complete an online rules test before the start of fall camp.
One of the videos on that test featured those aforementioned illegal hits, which not only come with a 15-yard penalty, but also could result in an ejection.
“I think it is really important, because that way people understand it is serious and ... it will get you in trouble,” Auburn Mountainview coach Jared Gervais said.
“We can say, ‘Don’t hit like this,’ but for them to know there is a consequence is good.”
PREP FOOTBALL 2013
Wednesday: First day of fall football for high schools around the state of Washington. All practices are non-contact.
Saturday: First day teams can hold full-contact practices in pads.
Sept. 5: First day of games, which include South Kitsap-Kentridge (7 p.m.), Wilson-Decatur (7 p.m.), Gig Harbor-O’Dea (7 p.m.).Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 email@example.com blogs.thenewstribune.com/preps @ManyHatsMilles