The Bellevue High School football team arrived at its annual camp at Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend this past summer missing the state’s best, most sought-after college recruit.
Two years ago the Wolverines had Myles Jack. In 2013, they had Budda Baker.
So somewhere, anywhere, on this year’s roster must be the best player in Washington state, right?
There’s just plenty of really good ones.
“As you can see, there’s no Budda Baker, there’s no Myles Jack,” said Butch Goncharoff, who has coached Bellevue teams that have won six consecutive 3A state titles — the longest active streak in the nation — including 11 in the past 13 years.
“There’s no one who can make you look silly. We just have a bunch of good football players and I think that is a great thing about us.”
Bellevue will try for yet another title when it faces Eastside Catholic for the third consecutive year at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Tacoma Dome. It comes almost a week after the Wolverines edged Marysville-Pilchuck for their 67th consecutive victory, which became the longest active win streak in the nation after Ithaca’s (Michigan) run ended at 69.
Henry Roberts might not be on quite the same level of Jack, last year’s Pac-12 offensive and defensive freshman of the year at UCLA, or Baker, a freshman starting in the University of Washington’s secondary this year. But the offensive lineman is off to the UW after this year and hopes to follow the same path as past Bellevue linemen Stephen Schilling and David DeCastro and eventually play in the NFL.
Roberts says this year’s Wolverines are more blue collar than past, leaning less on talent and more on toughness, teamwork and experience.
“Last year after we won the state championship, we had Saturday and Sunday off and we were back in the weight room on Monday,” Roberts said. “We started lifting weights and working our butts off.
“How have we done this? Two words: Hard work.”
And that continued into Fort Worden, where Roberts has spent each of his past four summers.
“They got harder each year,” Roberts said.
“Our junior class is super-talented, but in our senior class we have a bunch of guys who are just blue-collar, regular kids. You wouldn’t think we were really good football players.”
More than just the talent level has changed. Players begin learning Bellevue’s wing-T offense when they enter its youth program, but the Wolverines have turned to the passing game, led by junior quarterback Justus Rogers, this season maybe more than ever, Goncharoff said.
“He’s probably the smartest guy we’ve had back there,” Goncharoff said. “And one of the best.”
But Bellevue’s defense looks just the same, if not better. The Wolverines have allowed an average of 5.4 points per game this season. That’s the best mark of any school, any classification in the state.
“This is the best defense I’ve seen,” said Peninsula coach Ross Filkins, whose team has been knocked out by Bellevue in the 3A quarterfinals each of the past three years. “They don’t have the same star power as past years, but as a unit their defense is the best I’ve seen.”
“I don’t think we have any weaknesses,” said Wolverines linebacker/defensive back Ross Connors. “We all have a lot of room to improve, but there is a lot to like about every level of our defense.”
Connors watched older brothers Mick and Sean win multiple state titles with Bellevue in the mid-2000s. He hopes to leave with his fourth championship ring in four years.
“I’ve been dreaming about winning a state title my senior year for as long as I can remember,” Connors said. “And I don’t want to take anything away from years past, but I think the ability of this team to fight through adversity and play well when it matters most and play our best football when stuff isn’t going the best has been the most proud thing I’ve been a part of.
“Every time we go out there, we don’t want to let the guy next to us down. It’s tough to have success against us when a team plays like this.”
Even against a bunch of, as Roberts said, “regular kids.”
“I can tell you, the seniors — I love this class,” Goncharoff said. “We always say that it’s never the best team that wins. It’s usually the team that’s able to gut it out and make the plays when it needs to. And the thing about this group — you have to beat us.
“That’s the thing I like most about Bellevue football. We aren’t going to give it to you, you have to beat us. And if you are that team, I’ll be applauding you and high-fiving you all day because I think that’s great.”