When your offense is led by the combination of a future public speaker and an aspiring lawyer, things can get loud.
And when Franklin Pierce junior quarterback Willie Patterson and sophomore running back Alex Bing take the field, it gets even louder.
A relationship that quietly developed last year when both were unexpectedly thrust into starting roles has evolved into what very well could be the Class 2A South Puget Sound League’s fiercest threat.
“It’s just a natural connection together,” said Patterson, who in 2014 threw for 1,511 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to first-team all-league honors. “I knew once we had that, it was over. We couldn’t be stopped.”
Patterson, who entered last season at No. 2 on the depth chart, said leading the Cardinals to a 6-4 overall record and the league championship was surreal.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” he said. “Knowing that I had such a good season last year, now I’ve got to compete even more and get my name out there.”
Bing, an second-team all-league selection who tallied close to 1,000 rushing yards and four touchdowns, said he feels more confident with a year of experience.
“It’s not being nervous,” he said. “It’s about going out and doing what I can to help the team.”
Coach Mickey Ahrens said he had watched Patterson as a freshman when he was an assistant under Howard Lutton, who retired last year after more than three decades leading the Cardinals.
“The vision I had was that freshman,” he said of Patterson, who is now 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds. “But I’m blown away at his talent.”
The 5-7, 155-pound Bing was an even bigger surprise.
“His talent level is insane,” Ahrens said. “The coaches look at each other like, ‘Did he just do that?’”
Asked to assess their skills, both had far more to say about each other.
“He’s just a flat out playmaker,” Patterson said of Bing. “Wherever we want him, wherever we need him, he’s doing to go there and make the play.”
Bing was equally effusive, calling Patterson “my brother.”
“His awareness on the field is unbelievable,” Bing said. “He can scramble and he can pass — it’s a pick-your-poison kind of thing.”
Ahrens said he also appreciates the pair’s work ethic and attitude.
“They’re always smiling, they make practice fun,” he said. “Even when I may be getting a little too intense, one will crack a joke and make me laugh. It’s a fun environment.”
That jocularity is evident when they weigh in on their favorite football teams. Patterson is a lifelong Dallas Cowboys fan. Bing is a staunch Indianapolis Colts supporter.
“Everyone around school is always talking about the Seahawks,” Patterson joked. “Blah, blah, blah.”
Bing was even more emphatic.
“I just can’t like them,” he said.
They’re just as adamant about their passion for Cardinals football. A year after tying for first in the 2A SPSL and then losing in the district playoffs, both anticipate making a run for the state title.
“We have momentum on our side,” Bing said.
Patterson said the new coaching staff demands greatness — and that is necessary for a group that he said struggled with attention to detail last year.
“It would be third-and-10 with two minutes left in the third (quarter) and we would be in the red zone, driving — and not punch it in,” he said. “Or we would miss a kick.”
Bing said having strong leaders in Patterson and senior defensive end Diondre Abbott, makes a difference.
“When they yell and push us, we get better,” he said. “Our intensity is higher.”
Patterson said he hopes to parlay those leadership skills into a public speaking career.
As for Bing, a future in law is fitting.
“I’ve always got to have the last word,” he said with a laugh.
That attitude translates to the field.
“I want to be the one who stands out,” he said. “So at the end of the game, everybody knows my name — and knows that our team is the best in our league.”
2A SPSL PRIMER
CLOVER PARK WARRIORS
Coach: Jonathan “Taz” Randall, 13th year
2014 record: 0-10, eighth in league
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Kyle Hagman (pistol). Returning starters — 2. Top players — QB Joseph Claypoole, 5-10, 185, jr.; TE Curtis Garner, 6-3, 245, sr.; RB Malik Harris, 5-9, 160, so.; WR Carlo Sallinger, 5-9, 175, so.; OL Vitally Tekmenzhi, 5-10, 225, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — Michael Lauritzen (4-3). Returning starters — 3. Top players — LB Claypoole; DL David Hohn, 6-3, 230, sr.; CB Michael Nelson, 5-10, 175, jr.; DB Carlo Sallinger; DL Tekmenzhi.
Outlook: Coming off a winless season, Randall says it is hard to say who is going to stand out with such an inexperienced squad. Still, the Warriors return Garner, who racked up six tackles for loss as a defensive end last year, and Claypoole at quarterback after he threw for 707 yards and six touchdowns.
Coach: Kent Nevin, 13th year
2014 record: 7-4, third in league, lost in first round of state
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Shane Nixon (hybrid wing-T). Returning starters — 6. Top players — OL Antonio Edwards, 5-11 180, sr.; OL Aaron Koke, 6-2, 260, sr.; OL Lia Monis, 6-3, 240, sr.; QB Kyle Mozzone, 6-4, 220, sr.; TE Cornelius Polo, 6-4, 240, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — Arnoldo Arostegui (3-4). Returning starters — 5. Top players — DB Jackson Cooley, 5-10, 160, jr.; LB Monis; DB Wes Nixon, 5-10, 160, jr.; LB Tyler Paulino, 6-0, 190, sr.; LB Polo.
Outlook: With Tanner Knapp not playing football in order to focus on baseball, Nevin says the Trojans will look to what he thinks will be a great offensive combo in quarterback Mozzone and running back Nixon to put points on the board. The Trojans also return all — league linebackers Monis and Polo on what should be a deep defensive unit.
FRANKLIN PIERCE CARDINALS
Coach: Mickey Ahrens, first year
2014 record: 6-4, tied for first in league, lost in districts
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Cary Nagel (spread). Returning starters — 5. Top players — RB Alex Bing, 5-7, 160, so.; QB Willie Patterson, 5-10, 175, jr.; RB Hilton Starling, 5-10, 165, sr. WR Emmanuel Thornton 6-2, 175, sr.; OL Scott Vise, 6-1, 245, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — Ahrens (4-4). Returning starters — 4. Top players — DL/LB Diondre Abbott, 6-1 235, sr.; DB Isaiah Cubean, 5-5, 130, sr.; LB Derek Nesbitt, 6-0, 215, jr.; DL Tony Potter, 6-2, 275, sr.; LB Sam Samaga, 5-10, 185, sr.
Outlook: Ahrens says his offensive and defensive lines are the key to everything the Cardinals do and believes there could be five players on both sides of the trenches who could find themselves playing collegiate football someday. All-league first-team dual-threat QB Patterson returns and figures to be lethal with partner-in-crime Bing in the backfield.
Coach: Marty Parkhurst, 22nd year
2014 record: 5-6, tied for fourth in league, lost in first round of state
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Parkhurst (fly sweep). Returning starters — 5. Top players — WR Kevin Bodle, 6-0, 175, sr.; TE Erik Jacobson, 6-1, 215, sr.; OL Hunter Mullins, 5-11, 255, sr.; QB Gavin Vradenburg, 5-10, 170, sr.; RB Jon Wilkinson, 6-2, 175, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — Mitch Fowler (3-4). Returning starters — 5. Top players — DL Jackson Bell, 6-2, 220, sr.; LB Sean Brown, 6-0, 185, jr.; LB Jacobson; LB Owen Roselle, 5-11, 180, sr.; DB Wilkinson.
Outlook: Parkhurst expects great things from the offensive line, which he says is shaping up to be a big, powerful front that’s led by Mullins, who last year won the 285-pound state wrestling title for Orting. The Cardinals started last season with five losses in their first seven games before going on a run and eventually beating Lindbergh in a district matchup before losing to Squalicum in the first round of state.
RIVER RIDGE HAWKS
Coach: Steve Schultz, 14th year
2014 record: 9-2, tied for first in league, lost in first round of state
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Jack Zilla (two back). Returning starters — 4. Top players — OL David Bowker, 6-3, 290, sr.; QB Kobe Key, 5-11 165, sr.; OL Kyle Kramer, 5-9, 290, sr.; OL Caleb Price, 6-3, 325, sr.; WR JT Wesley, 5-10, 175, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — Jerry Madrid (stack cover 3). Returning starters — 2. Top players — DB Ryan Blash, 6-0, 185, jr.; DL Tyler Campbell, 5-8, 275, sr.; LB Zach Carter, 6-0, 220, sr.; DB Alex Coleman 5-10, 160, jr.; DB DJ Smith, 6-0, 175; sr.
Outlook: The Hawks feature quarterback Key, a second-team all-league selection who racked up 1,307 passing yards and 209 yards rushing in 2014 — and the player several league coaches figure to be the biggest threat. Schultz is succinct in his analysis of what happens when his offense has the ball: “We run the ball.”
Coach: Rich Lane, first year
2014 record: 4-6, tied for fourth in league
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Lane (spread). Returning starters — 3. Top players — WR Marcus Hampton, 6-0, 175, jr.; RB/WR Anthony Leiato, 6-1, 185, jr.; OT Dawson Shero, 5-10, 220, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — John Moorehead (3-4). Returning starters — 3. Top players — DB Leiato; LB Juan Lomeli, 5-10, 200, jr.; DT Noah Miller, 5-9, 210, sr.
Outlook: A senior-laden offensive line anchors this group, and Lane is depending on its chemistry to help the skill positions develop. The defense is driven by go-to safeties, including Leiato, whose hard-hitting brother, Fotu T. Leiato, is now at the University of Oregon. Lane said the team will need great play from its defensive backfield this season to have success.
Coach: Mike Von Rueden, seventh season
2014 record: 3-7, sixth in league
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Eric Stanczyk (spread). Returning starters — 9. Top players — OL David Camacho, 5-10, 215, jr.; RB Tariq Ellis, 5-9, 175, sr.; RB Darius Hatcher RB, 5-10, 170, sr.; OL Ieremia Pelupelu, 6-4, 265, sr.; OL Maguire Schliemann, 6-2, 260, jr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — Thomas Hoghaug (3-4). Returning starters — 7. Top players — DL Nate Evans 5-11, 220; so.; DB Josh Kinchen, 6-3, 175, sr.; DL/LB Isley Stoneham, 6-4, 225, jr.; LB Kitrell Willingham, 6-3, 200, sr.
Outlook: Led by Pelupelu, an returning first-team all-league pick, the offensive line is the biggest and most experienced Von Reuden said he has coached in six seasons — and only two of them are seniors. An athletic, deep defense will come in handy in what should be a pass-happy league.
WHITE RIVER HORNETS
Coach: Joe Sprouse, sixth year
2014 record: 3-7, seventh in league.
Offense: Coordinator (set) — Sprouse (spread). Returning starters — 5. Top players — SB Devyn Hager, 5-6, 170, so.; WR Marcus Henke, 6-2, 180, sr; RB Justin Tidwell, 5-10, 185, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) — John Schumacher (3-4). Returning starters — 5. Top players — DB Andrew Northam, 5-10, 185, sr.; LB Tommy Peltram, 5-8, 185, sr.; LB Jake Rundhaug 5-9, 190, sr.
Outlook: As most coaches are typically quick to point out, success starts with the offensive and defensive lines. That’s no different for White River. The Hornets have several new faces in the trenches, but Sprouse has now had six years to implement his system and said that will be a huge factor this season.