Just weeks into his first season at Lincoln High School in 2012, football coach Jon Kitna was left scrambling.
His son, Jordan, was expected to be the starting quarterback as a ninth-grader. But because the teenager transferred from a different school district, the West Central District ruled Jordan ineligible for all varsity sports for one season.
So Jon Kitna – an adept scrambler as a quarterback during his 15-year career in the NFL – turned to then-junior J’Maka Love to fill the role right before the regular-season opener at Bonney Lake.
“We just wanted to have our best athlete back there, and that was him,” Kitna said.
Although it wasn’t his natural position, Love did a stellar job, passing for 1,797 yards and 25 touchdowns and rushing for 445
yards and five TDs in leading the Abes to the district playoffs, where they wound up losing to powerful Bellevue.
With the ruling now behind them, Jordan Kitna has been firmly installed as the starting quarterback this season. And Love has been moved back to his natural position – wide receiver.
“(Love) is a dynamic football player, and his best opportunity in college is to be playing (a) receiver/defensive back-type of position,” Jon Kitna said. “We felt like it was the best decision for him. It’s good for our program, too. We are trying to maximize our potential as a football program, and for us that was to start playing our young guys at key positions.”
For Love, a 5-foot-11 speedster who has gained 25 pounds since his sophomore season and is now a chiseled 185, the change is welcomed.
“I feel like I have more freedom with the ball in my hands,” Love said.
That’s good news for a Lincoln squad that returns 15 starters. An offensive line that averages around 265 pounds should provide time for Jordan Kitna to get the ball to Love and let him unleash his skills in the open field. Jon Kitna said Love will line up everywhere on the field – inside as a slot, outside as a wideout, at tailback and maybe even quarterback – and should get 20 to 30 touches a game.
“We want to give the defense different looks with him,” Jon Kitna said.
Love’s experience last season at quarterback has set the table for him to have a big year. Learning the nuances of how to run an offense from a former NFL quarterback has given the senior a greater appreciation for the game.
The coach demands extreme concentration in team meetings and encourages players to ask questions if they don’t know something.
“(Jon Kitna) just sharpened my mind football-wise,” Love said. “He made me focus on the little details, (because) that’s what it takes to be great.”
A dedication to working hard in the weight room has helped give Love the physical tools to excel at wide receiver, and now he has a firm grasp on everything the offense will run this year.
“The greatest thing he had to do was to play quarterback because the best way to learn everything is to play quarterback,” Jon Kitna said. “Now he knows it all and we can move him all over the place, and that’s a great positive for him.”
On the Throne
In the past five seasons, Timberline has won 27 of 30 league games to finish first or second. Blazers should get tested by Lincoln, North Thurston.
In the Spotlight
Last year, Hayden Maliska (616 yards) was part of a North Thurston tailback rotation. This season he should be his team’s – and the league’s – workhorse.
Change is Good
Jon Kitna, meet your new quarterback at Lincoln – sophomore Jordan Kitna, who knows his ex-NFL quarterback father’s offense best of anyone.
By the Numbers
All Shelton had to do last season was hand the ball off to tailback Ralph Kinne (2,389 yards, 30 TDs). Junior Jake Henry’s turn is next.
Timberline (9-2 last year), Lincoln (5-5), North Thurston (9-3), Wilson (5-5), Foss (2-7), Shelton (7-3), Mount Tahoma (0-10).
Mark the Date
Oct. 4: Timberline at Lincoln, Lincoln Bowl, 7 p.m.
NARROWS 3A PREVIEW
Coach: Patrick Johnson, second year
2012 record: 2-7, 6th in league
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Matt Johnson (pro style). Returning starters – 5. Top players – RB Devin Clark, 6-0, 190, sr.; WR Michael Cocke’, 6-1, 175, jr.; OL Ben Faalavaau, 5-11, 225, jr.; RB Patiole Pesefea, 6-2, 290, sr.; WR Marcellus Potts, 5-11, 165, sr.; OL Riley Potts, 5-11, 225, so.; WR Chris Reynolds, 6-3, 190, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Pat Johnson (4-4). Returning starters – 7. Top players – LB Felix Atoa, 6-0, 215, sr.; DB Nick Burton, 5-11, 175, sr.; DB Alonzo Jones, 6-1, 185, sr.; LB John Moore, 6-0, 190, sr.; DL Patiole Pesefea, 6-2, 290, sr.; DL Tray Williams, 6-3, 325, sr.
Outlook: The best story of perseverance and success works daily with the team – Pesefea. After missing two games last season (academics), the senior improved both his grades and his football sense this summer to earn a scholarship offer from Eastern Washington. Under Johnson, the Falcons are on the brink of breaking out.
Coach: Jon Kitna, second year
2012 record: 5-5, 4th in league; lost in 3A district playoffs.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Tony Brooks (single back). Returning starters – 7. Top players – WR Kashawn Johnson, 6-1, 180, sr.; OL Ben King, 6-3, 400, jr.; QB Jordan Kitna, 6-0, 180, so.; WR J’Maka Love, 5-11, 185, sr.; RB Rayshaun Miller, 5-9, 175, jr.; OL Ben Puapuaga, 6-3, 295, jr.; WR Dionte Simon, 6-1, 175, so.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Casey Kjos (3-4). Returning starters – 8. Top players – LB Ike Castro, 5-10, 200, sr.; LB BJ Hawthorne, 6-1, 215, jr.; DB Dehonta Hayes, 5-11, 180, jr.; LB Marcus Johnson, 6-2, 200, jr.; DB Tayvon Murray, 5-9, 170, sr.; DL JJ Saili, 6-1, 265, sr.
Outlook: It is the second year of the Kitna era. Do the Abes make a big jump? The Kitna-Miller-Love triumvirate should be dynamic on offense, but defense took a hit when linebacker Justiss Warren (knee) was lost for the season. The action funneled to him; now the Abes will try to control things up front with Saili and company.
MOUNT TAHOMA THUNDERBIRDS
Coach: Kevin Hanis, seventh year
2012 record: 0-10, 7th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Hanis (spread). Returning starters – 7. Top players – QB Adrian Allen, 6-2, 175, so.; OL Daniel Edison, 5-10, 225, sr.; RB Isaiah Hudson, 6-0, 190, jr.; OL Alex Ratke, 6-2, 245, so.; OL Raymond Taula, 6-0, 220, sr.; OL Jarrett Tuialuuluu, 6-4, 295, so. RB Keenan Wade-Herrera, 5-10, 170, so.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Clarence Wright (5-2). Returning starters – 5. Top players – DB Adrian Allen, 6-2, 175, so.; DL Nehemiah Barr, 6-3, 250, jr.; DL Daniel Edison, 5-10, 225, sr.; LB Shawn Tatum, 6-3, 210, so.
Outlook: Enduring a winless season can leave an indelible mark on a team’s psyche, even motivating players to quit. That is not the case with the Thunderbirds – and in particular their talented corps of sophomores, who are the future of the program. Allen is a big, fast athlete who could really cause headaches for defensive coordinators in the near future.
NORTH THURSTON RAMS
Coach: Rocky Patchin, 22nd year
2012 record: 9-3, 2nd in league; lost in 3A quarterfinals.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Pete Smith (offset I-formation). Returning starters – 3. Top players – RB Hayden Maliska, 5-11, 185, sr.; QB Ryan Mets, 6-1, 180, sr.; RB Josh Ramirez, 5-10, 190, sr.; OL Alex Rice, 6-6, 315, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Randy Swilley (4-4). Returning starters – 2. Top players – DL Jake Grantham, 6-2, 225, sr.; LB Hayden Maliska, 5-11, 185, sr.; DL Nick Neely, 6-0, 225, sr.; DL Grant Williams, 6-1, 240, jr.
Outlook: The North Thurston offense will once again be a force to be reckoned with. Mets has a rocket arm and will have plenty of protection behind the mammoth Rice. Despite losing the 1-2 rushing punch of Mo Manning and Brandon Belisario, Maliska used swimming as a training regimen to build strength and endurance.
Coach: Matt Hinkle, 19th year
2012 record: 7-3, 3rd in league; lost in 3A district playoffs.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Cary Nagel (Multiple). Returning starters – 4. Top players – OL Brandon Blakley, 6-1, 280, jr.; WR Jesse Danford, 5-11, 180, sr.; RB Jake Henry, 5-11, 185, jr.; OL Hunter Ostenson, 5-11, 255, sr.; WR Michael Sobotka, 5-11, 185, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Hinkle (4-2). Returning starters – 6. Top players – LB Gordon Henry, 5-11, 190, sr.; DB Colton Hubble, 6-0, 175, sr.; DB Thomas Lanphear, 5-11, 180, sr.; LB Ruby Mackiewicz, 6-0, 185, sr.; LB Brian Nault, 6-2, 220, jr.
Outlook: How do you replace the state’s regular-season leading rusher in Ralph Kinne? Not easily. The Henry brothers (Gordon also plays fullback) saw Kinne’s work ethic up close last season during Shelton’s run to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. The brothers will do their best to carry the offense despite a patchwork offensive line.
Coach: Nick Mullen, seventh year
2012 record: 9-2, 1st in league; lost in 3A district playoffs.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Jeb Dorn/Anthony Hicks (pistol). Returning starters – 4. Top players – WR Stevie Cleveland, 5-7, 170, jr.; OL Royce Christiansen, 6-3, 250, sr.; QB Gabe Gutierrez, 5-11, 170, jr.; WR David Harper, 5-11, 185, sr.; RB Asan Neil-Evergin, 5-9, 175, sr.; OL Cole Stevens, 6-3, 265, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Mullen (4-3). Returning starters – 7. Top players – LB Benny Kaleiwahea, 6-2, 200, sr.; DB Trent Gallagher, 5-8, 175, sr.; DB Garrett Reeser, 6-0, 185, sr.; DL Dylan Reinhold, 6-1, 260, sr.; DB Javon Watson, 5-8, 165, sr.; DB Jeff Winsted, 5-7, 190, sr.
Outlook: The most consistent program in the league the last five years. Despite losing a core group of seniors to graduation, the Blazers still have a roster of burners. Neil-Evergin is the leader of that crew as he steps in to fill the shoes of departed two-time Narrows League offensive MVP Spencer Crump, and brings a flashier play-making style.
Coach: Don Clegg, 26th year
2012 record: 5-5, 5th in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Clegg (multiple). Returning starters – 2. Top players – WR Brandon Montgomery, 5-7, 145, sr.; TE Jordan Puce, 6-5, 230, jr.; RB Darren Rivera, 6-0, 170, so.; TE AJ Ruffin, 6-5, 230, jr.; QB Isaiah Simpson, 5-10, 170, sr.; OL Jack Springer, 6-2, 285, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Jon Harkness (multiple). Returning starters – 2. Top players – LB Tanner Colburn, 6-0, 210, so.; DL Billy Greer, 6-1, 235, jr.; DB Ricky Perry, 5-8, 140, sr.; DB Isaiah Simpson, 5-10, 170, sr.; LB Kyle Stecker, 5-10, 170, sr.; DB Julius Yates-Brown, 5-10, 175, jr.
Outlook: It’s difficult to pin down this team heading into 2013. The Rams are short on returning experience but still have enough athletes – and tradition – to make a run at the postseason. They need to find ways to utilize two big athletes at tight end in Puce and Ruffin, and a dynamic speedster in Montgomery at receiver in the passing attack.