There’s a shadow rising over the South Puget Sound League.
It’s been growing for years as the “shepherd,” Sumner High coach Keith Ross, has readied his flock for this moment — this one season. It is time for his Sumner Spartans to bring their brand of football into the Class 4A with visions of capturing the inaugural SPSL championship in the process.
At Sunset Chev Stadium, the Black Flag is ready to fly high.
It’s a warrior mentality they need to have when it’s game time. We want them to be (butt) kickers.
Sumner coach Keith Ross
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“It’s a warrior mentality they need to have when it’s game time,” Ross said. “We want them to be (butt) kickers.”
No defensive unit over the 19 years of Ross coaching the Spartans has fit that mentality better than this year’s defense, dubbed the “Black Flag.”
It’s in the cerebral nature of how safety Sklyer Sandretzky aligns the unit from the back, the flash and style of cornerback Connor Wedington that leaves teammates with a smile, and the hammering of offensive linemen by tackle Logan Mayer, who allows the Spartans to unleash their beast, linebacker Ben Wilson.
“The Black Flag is definitely something else (as a group),” Wedington said. “We’re always doing something together — as a team — but for the defensive (side), it’s a great honor to be on the Black Flag.”
Ol’ Jolly Roger never looked so daunting.
“Down here at Sumner, the biggest thing is defense. Defense wins championships, we believe,” Mayer emphasized. “Our offense (may be able) to score 40 points (per game), but that’s not the point. The point is to stop (them) on defense.”
Wilson was selected to The News Tribune’s all-state team at linebacker, and Wedington was selected as defensive back.
The Black Flag is definitely something else (as a group). We’re always doing something together — as a team — but for the defensive (side), it’s a great honor to be on the Black Flag.
Raising the flag
There’s never been a team quite like this year’s squad at Sunset Chev Stadium — one filled with the “most talented” unit Ross has ever assembled over his 19 years, often leaving the coach with no explanation to what makes his unit tick.
Especially when it comes to his defense.
Perhaps it started with Sandretzky, when the captain was a sophomore and still pretending to be a quarterback.
“It’s great playing with (Sandretzky). We’ve been playing together since we were 6 years old,” Wedington said. “(The) safety (position) is a huge part of the Black Flag — (he’s) the controller of our defense.”
Something ate at Ross about Sandretzky, about this 5-foot-10 athlete with the rare potential to play both sides of the ball. But Ross went a different route. Instead, he stripped Sandretzky from all offensive duties, and instead fed him an all-defensive diet. Two years later, the plan has worked out perfectly.
“It feels good knowing that everyone trust me, and that I got everyone (else’s) back,” Sandretzky said. “Ever since sophomore year, Ross has just pressed me about the defense. (Now) I like to take charge and have everyone be efficient on defense.”
That same season came the emergence of Ross’ premier playmaker, Wedington. As the Spartans’ top recruit dazzled on offense, it was his ability to make highlight-reel cuts on special teams that set him apart.
No offenses like to punt the football, and teams facing Sumner last year discovered that they especially hated kicking it in Wedington’s direction, for fear he would take any of their punts and make them pay. It’s something he often did.
“Connor and Tre (Weed), they can put a lot of pressure on defenses,” Ross said. “And on special teams, we don’t know if teams are going to kick it to Connor. I certainly wouldn’t want to kick it to him, but if they give it a whirl, we’ll see how it goes.”
The fact that second guessing plays into every team’s decision when Wedington lines up for returns is playing right into the Spartans’ hands, especially in a game that doesn’t allow any room for errors.
“It’s nice to (get a) three-and-out and get our offense back on the field and watch them score. The problem is, our offense tends to score quickly,” Mayer said. “I wish I could tell (Wedington) to give us a break, but, honestly, our defense just loves being out there.”
It’s nice to go three-and-out, and get our offense back on the field and watching them score. The problem is, our offense tends to score quickly. I wish I could tell (Wedington) to give us a break, but, honestly, our defense just loves being out there.
Control and chaos
If Wilson had a favorite number to choose from last year — other than his own No. 8 — it would have had to have been No. 72, the one worn by Sumner’s most physical force, Logan Mayer.
“Our D-line means a lot to me,” Wilson admitted. “They’re taking on bodies, taking blockers off me so I can go make tackles.”
Wilson was a beast last season flying around and creating chaos all over the field. As Ross’ most talented linebacker he’s ever coached, Wilson was able to lead the state with 181 total tackles.
Our D-line means a lot to me. They’re taking on bodies, taking blockers off me so I can go make tackles.
If not for Mayer, many of those tackles would not have been recorded.
“A guy like Logan on the line allows us to control the line of scrimmage,” Ross said. “He allows guys like Ben to run around and make plays on the ball. He’s invaluable to what we want to do on defense, and what we want to do starts at the line.”
And what Sumner’s Black Flag wants to do is cast a very large shadow that no team in the SPSL can escape.