After the blaring country music was turned down, football coach Ross Filkins could be heard loudly in Peninsula High School’s post-practice huddle last week at Roy Anderson Field.
Happy with his team’s energy, Filkins opened the huddle for a reflective “Spotlight” segment where players could applaud the effort of a teammate, or report something that caught his eye.
Buried in a pack of teammates, senior Ben Smith stood up to offer a compliment. A few minutes later, after the rounds had been made, Smith — known more for his all-out playing style than his oratory skills — again rose to his feet to praise a fellow linebacker.
With so much of the core group of last year’s South Puget Sound League 3A championship squad graduated, new faces are needed to fill the leadership vacuum. Smith was identified early as one of those types.
“Every year, a handful of seniors come out of the woodwork and make a statement — to make a memory,” Filkins said. “He is certainly an emotional leader … and he pays attention. He’s always been that way — very focused.”
It appears Smith is set to fill a bunch of roles. He is the starting fullback, expected to get up to five carries per game. He also will see time at tight end, which is new.
On defense, he is the starting middle linebacker in Joel Epstein’s 4-3 defense,
which will be expected to carry the brunt of the team’s early fortunes.
Smith was also born without a left hand.
“Usually people ask, ‘What happened to your hand?’ And I always give them the phony story that a shark bit it off,” Smith said. “Then you tell them the truth.”
His parents have never made the disability a focal point. In fact, they have given the teenager one piece of advice: You are going to find a way.
“They did it purposely, and it has worked out really well,” Smith said. “It was like telling me, ‘You are not going to give up.’ It works.”
Smith has a massively strong right-handed grip. He also does one-armed pull-ups.
He has never fumbled the football in a high school game, varsity or junior varsity. He admits he may have let the ball loose once in practice as a ninth grader.
“I’ve never tried knocking the ball away from him … but I know he is strong,” Seahawks’ two-way lineman Hayden Smith said. “He uses that (left hand) as a club. He can hurt you.”
Ben Smith is also a nationally ranked junior snowboarder out of White Pass Ski Area who competes in the “boardercross” event — an all-out, downhill half-mile race involving 4-6 competitors that is similar to the combative, full-contact style of motocross.
“Last year was my first year on the big stage,” Smith said. “My name is starting to get out there.”
His ultimate goal is to make the U.S. Ski Team in the event for a future Winter Olympics or World Cup.
Both of the Smith boys — no relation — spend most of their winter weekends at White Pass as instructors. Their families own cabins in Packwood, which is located 20 minutes from the ski lodge.
And both teenagers have participated in “Hope on the Slopes” — constant skiing or snowboarding for 24 consecutive hours as part of a charity relay team.
“We covered 1.6 million vertical feet,” Ben Smith said, “in 24 hours.”
AUBURN MOUNTAINVIEW LIONS
Coach: Jared Gervais, 3rd year
2012 record: 5-5, 3rd in league; lost in 3A districts.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Jared Gervais (spread). Returning starters - 4. Top players – WR Joey Cassano, 5-9, 175, sr.; RB/WR Ray Hardaway, 5-11, 195, sr.; RB Daylen Keene, 6-0, 170, jr.; OL Ryan Pitt, 6-0, 180, jr.; WR Jason Sele, 6-1, 205, jr.; OL Dakota Weir, 6-2, 250, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Kent Rodseth (3-3 stack). Returning starters - 3. Top players – DL Malachi Fowler, 6-0, 185, sr.; DB Ray Hardaway, 5-11, 195, sr.; DB Brandon Mozzone, 6-2, 175, sr.; LB Jason Sele, 6-1, 205, jr.; LB Aeron Watson, 5-8, 185, jr.
Outlook: Gone is prolific passer Domenic Rockey, whom Gervais’ spread passing system was built around. Now what? Sophomore Gresch Jensen looks to be the heir apparent, if he holds off Kevin Rockey (Dom’s younger brother) all season. And he has a go-to receiver in Cassano. But it will take time for the Lions to reboot for another playoff run.
BONNEY LAKE PANTHERS
Coach: Jason Silbaugh, 2nd year
2012 record: 4-6, 4th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Jason Silbaugh (pistol). Returning starters - 7. Top players – WR Robert Combs, 5-10, 175, sr.; WR Logan Coutts, 6-0, 175, sr.; OL Cameron Goenner, 6-3, 310, sr.; OL Brandon Kilstrom, 6-1, 225, sr.; OL Stefen Land, 6-2, 300, sr.; RB Ethan McElderry, 5-9, 175, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Matt Ledbetter (4-2-5). Returning starters - 6. Top players – DB Dillon Jordan, 6-1, 170, jr.; DL Brandon Kilstrom, 6-1, 225, sr.; DB Travis Mayer, 5-10, 185, sr.; LB T.J. Potts, 5-11, 190, sr.; DL Brandon Trimm, 6-1, 240, sr.; LB Gabe Witters, 6-0, 195, jr.
Outlook: The Panthers might still be a couple seasons away from battling the league’s big boys, but the gap is closing. McElderry – now that four-year starting quarterback Chris Brown has graduated – becomes the backfield leader. Defensive line should be a real strength with Kilstrom and Trimm as bookend pass-rushers, and Goenner clogging the middle.
Coach: Leon Hatch, 7th year
2012 record: 2-8, 6th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Leon Hatch (spread). Returning starters - 9. Top players – OL Marlon Andrews, 6-3, 325, sr.; RB/WR Devin Brown, 5-10, 185, sr.; RB Isaiah Diggs, 5-6, 160, jr.; QB Isaiah Hatch, 5-9, 175, jr.; RB Noel Maafala, 6-1, 240, sr.; OL Teban Mansary, 6-1, 300, jr.; DL David Nelson, 6-1, 260, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Irvin Stevenson (3-5). Returning starters - 8. Top players – DL Marlon Andrews, 6-3, 325, sr.; DB Keandre Blackshire, 5-11, 175, jr.; LB Jared Cooper, 6-1, 210, sr.; DB Isaiah Diggs, 5-6, 160, jr.; LB Josiah Eki Goulding, 6-1, 235, sr.; OL Teban Mansary, 6-1, 300, jr.
Outlook: All this class of 2015 has ever known is success. So after the Gators’ rough last season, all that did was stoke the fire. The “Isaiah” backfield tandem (Hatch, Diggs) should produce enough game-changing plays if revamped offensive line, led by Andrews and sophomore Jerimiyah Viena at the guard spots, keep progressing.
Coach: Mark Gunderson, 2nd year
2012 record: 3-6, 5th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Jason Patterson (power I-formation). Returning starters - 7. Top players – OL Sam Fisher, 6-3, 265, sr.; QB Peter Nordby, 6-1, 175, sr.; RB Mauricio Portillo, 5-10, 210, sr.; WR Trey Rodarte, 6-3, 180, jr.; RB Cameron Strecker, 5-9, 165, sr.; OL Chandler Streuli, 6-3, 300, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Mark Gunderson (5-2). Returning starters - 8. Top players – DL Bailey Deters, 5-11, 205, sr.; DL Richard Heer, 6-2, 260, sr; DB Peter Nordby, 6-1, 175, sr.; LB Evan McCrillis, 6-1, 180, sr.; LB Mauricio Portillo, 5-10, 210, sr.; DB Cameron Strecker, 5-9, 165, sr.
Outlook: A summer buzz of marked improvement has followed this group around as the Hornets try and get back to playing hard-nosed football. One change was bringing aboard Patterson, an ex-Enumclaw player, to run a power-running scheme. The Portillo-Strecker-McCrillis running-back trio is expected to pound on opposing defenses.
Coach: Dave Miller, 14th year
2012 record: 5-5, 2nd in league; lost in 3A districts.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Drew Miller (multiple). Returning starters - 5. Top players – OL J.T. Colvin, 6-3, 235, jr.; QB/WR Kemonee Jenkins, 5-10, 170, jr.; WR Caleb Lyons, 5-9, 185, sr.; TE Benning Potoa’e, 6-4, 255, jr.; OL Kiyrie Simons, 6-1, 275, jr.; OL Calvin Trotty, 6-3, 255, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Matt Roth (4-3). Returning starters - 5. Top players – LB Tony Hill, 5-11, 225, jr.; DB Kemonee Jenkins, 5-10, 170, jr.; DB Caleb Lyons, 5-9, 185, sr.; DL/LB Benning Potoa’e, 6-4, 255, jr.; DL Kiyrie Simons, 6-1, 275, jr.; DB Johnny Weeks, 5-9, 180, sr.
Outlook: OK, so the Lancers’ four-year run as league champions abruptly ended. Is anyone picking against a revenge tour in 2013? The line is deeper and stronger, led by Potoa’e – and that will be needed to offset some of the skill-position losses. If Jenkins, an ex-receiver, develops into the answer at quarterback, Lakes will be just fine – again.
Coach: Ross Filkins, 19th year
2012 record: 9-3, 1st in league; lost in 3A quarterfinals.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Steve Levenseller (spread). Returning starters - 2. Top players – OL Michael Gerrison, 6-1, 22, sr.; WR Ian Hodge, 5-11, 175, sr.; WR Will Hopkins, 6-3, 180, sr.; OL Zach Howard, 6-4, 240, sr.; QB Robert Kvinsland, 6-3, 180, jr.; WR Conner Welch, 5-8, 160, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Joel Epstein (4-3). Returning starters - 1. Top players – DL Major Ali, 5-8, 230, jr.; LB Jack Andrews, 5-11, 190, sr.; DL Zak Dobosh, 5-9, 240, jr.; DB Noah Hanks, 6-1, 170, sr.; DL Zach Howard, 6-4, 240, sr.; LB Ben Smith, 6-0, 205, sr.
Outlook: Howard and Gerrison are the lone returning starters from last season’s final-eight squad, which lost to powerhouse Bellevue. But Peninsula does have a lot of players who saw varsity minutes last season. This team’s core is certainly capable, just not deep. And a wave of talented sophomores and ninth graders is coming.
In the Spotlight
Who is the league’s top returning all-around threat? Most would say Lakes receiver Caleb Lyons, but watch out for Bonney Lake’s Robert Combs.
Change is Good
Getting junior Benning Potoa’e unleashed for a monster year at defensive end is a priority at Lakes. Enter new defensive coordinator Matt Roth.
By the Numbers
Auburn Mountainview and Bonney Lake must find ways to replace the combined 107 career TD passes Domenic Rockey and Chris Brown threw.
Lakes (5-5 last year), Peninsula (9-3), Enumclaw (3-6), Bonney Lake (4-6), Decatur (2-8), Auburn Mountainview (3-7).
Mark the Date
Nov. 1: Peninsula at Lakes, Harry E. Lang Stadium, 7 p.m.