High school football coaches and players often refer to this time of summer as “hunting season.”
The prize? Hopefully playing for a state championship in December.
The action revs back up starting Wednesday for the first official day of preseason high school football camps around the state of Washington.
Here are five storylines worth monitoring as we head into 2014:
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State’s best: Bellevue
It would be unwise to pick any program other than Bellevue High School, which wrapped up its sixth consecutive Class 3A state title last season with a 52-20 victory over Eastside Catholic.
The Wolverines also have a 54-game winning streak — the third-longest active streak in the country behind Pahranagat Valley High in Nevada (69 games), and Ithaca High in Michigan and Regina High in Iowa (54).
But one other team in the state is doing its best to keep pace — Lynden High School in 2A.
The Lions won their third consecutive 2A title last season by beating Tumwater. They’ve won five of the past six state championships.
The Lions are loaded, and are the overwhelming favorite to grab a fourth 2A title.
Could be Cascade Christian’s year
Besides Tumwater’s run of making the Class 2A title game in three of the past four seasons, including winning a state title in 2010, and Cascade Christian’s run of four consecutive 1A title-game appearances (2008-11), South Sound teams have found the road to the state championship game a little rugged.
The last 4A local to play for a state title? Bellarmine Prep in 2012. Before that. It was 2002 with Kentwood.
The last 3A local to play for the big trophy? Lakes in 2000.
So who is the best bet this season?
Bellarmine Prep has made it to at least the semifinals in each of the past two seasons. Federal Way keeps knocking on the door in 4A, losing in the semifinals last season. And Peninsula has run into powerhouse Bellevue twice in the 3A quarters since 2012.
But if there is a year set up for Cascade Christian to make another championship run, this is it.
Yes, defending 1A champion Freeman returns the majority of its team. But Cascade Christian coach Randy Davis feels this is as talented and experienced a starting unit on both sides of the ball he’s ever had — led by fourth-year starting quarterback Jaelin Goldsmith and all-state linebacker Mason Tobeck.
He doesn’t mind the nickname “Blue Mamba” — just as long as the name that continues to blare over the stadium loudspeakers is Chico McClatcher.
The Federal Way High running back finished last season with more than 2,500 all-purpose and 26 touchdowns, leading the Eagles to the state semifinals.
As a senior, McClatcher’s offensive role is expected to expand. He is expected to not only see time as a slot receiver, but on the outside, too. Heck, he might even take a few snaps at quarterback.
That has to be a scary proposition for defensive coordinators. With his quickness and extra gear of speed, McClatcher is arguably the state’s most explosive player in space. He is also a top-five recruit in Washington for the class of 2014-15.
Surprise team could come from Federal Way
So who could be this year’s Auburn Riverside, going from unheralded to a playoff team?
That team very well could be Beamer High School under coach Darren McKay, who is in his third season.
McKay has built a reputation as a thorough rebuilder of downtrodden programs. In his third years at both Timberline and Gig Harbor, both of those schools posted winning records.
The Titans return nine starters on offense, led by all-South Puget Sound League South Division running back Brody Martinez, who averaged more than 7.0 yards per carry and totaled 1,300 yards in nine games last season.
But where they expect to punish opponents is with the beef — and toughness — that comes out of their front seven on defense. Chris Fa’amalele and Jordan Jennings are two all-league defensive ends who can play back in coverage.
A new SPSL 4A
After a crazy year of reclassification, if you don’t recognize the SPSL 4A this season, you shouldn’t worry.
The good news: It is more geographically realigned.
The SPSL South will feature seven schools, all from Pierce County — the three Puyallup School District schools (Emerald Ridge, Puyallup, Rogers), the three Bethel School District schools (Bethel, Graham-Kapowsin, Spanaway Lake) and Curtis High School. They will play for three spots to the district playoff round.
The SPSL North will be divided up into two five-school sub-divisions. One will feature the four Federal Way district schools (Beamer, Decatur, Federal Way, Jefferson) and Mount Rainier, and the other will have the four Kent district schools (Kent-Meridian, Kentlake, Kentridge, Kentwood) and Tahoma.
Five district berths will be up for grabs among those 10 schools — with the top two teams in each sub-division automatically earning four spots, and the third-place teams in each sub-division playing an elimination game for the No. 5 spot.