As a sophomore last season, Peninsula High running back Braeden Potter struggled with holding on to the ball at times.
So the team’s top two running backs — seniors Blake Cantu and Kenny Easton — addressed the issue with the young and promising Potter.
“They tried to never fumble in games so they got on me about that,” Potter said. “They told me, ‘You’ve gotta hold the ball, dude.’ So they’d make me carry a ball around during practice.”
Point taken and lesson learned.
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“I’m a tougher practice player now and a better person because of them,” Potter said.
Now Potter, who rushed for 320 yards a season ago, is ready for a bigger role. He’s one of many players who will need to step up this season for a Seahawks squad that will be tasked with replacing last year’s huge senior class, which guided Peninsula to the Class 3A state playoffs and posted a 10-2 record.
“We graduate seniors every year, so it’s something we’ve got experience with,” Peninsula coach Ross Filkins said. “Our young guys are not young anymore. Now they’re seniors, juniors. We’re doing well. We feel really good about our team and the depth that we’ve built.”
It’s no secret that Peninsula loves to run the football. Potter will be a key player for the Seahawks’ ground game this year.
“I’m ready to take it on,” Potter said. “I was put in this spot for a reason. I’m going to give my 100 percent, nothing less.”
Filkins likes what he has seen from his junior running back.
“He’s been awesome,” Filkins said. “He’s got a little shiftiness in him but he’s powerful. He can get loose in the open field.”
But the Seahawks may air the ball out a bit more than last year, with returning quarterback Burke Griffin stronger, more athletic, more seasoned and more confident than before.
“The game just continues to slow down for me,” Griffin said. “The coaches are calling good plays, putting us in the right situations. It’s just about me going through my reads, making sure I’m getting it to right guy.”
Griffin had a busy offseason, attending various quarterback camps, including one at the University of Washington, where he got to know UW’s Jake Browning a bit.
“He’s an awesome guy,” Griffin said. “I loved learning from him. He doesn’t necessarily have all the tools you see other guys have, but he’s super smart on the game and that’s something that I want to grow in as well. Getting to pick his brain was super beneficial. The mental game has been huge for me. The biggest thing I learned from him is that you don’t really have to throw it far. You just have to get it to the guys who can make plays. We have plenty of those guys on this team.”
Still, Griffin added some muscle in the offseason and has improved his arm strength. Last year, he threw for 1,082 yards and completed 50.8 percent of his passes. His improvement has been noticeable to the coaching staff and his teammates in fall camp.
“His arm has gotten a lot stronger, he can hit those 10-yard out routes now,” Potter said. “It’s pretty nice to have that. He’s really stepped up his game and hit the weight room.”
Filkins was full of praise for Griffin and the work he did in the offseason to improve his game.
“He’s much faster, quicker,” Filkins said. “His arm strength has increased dramatically. His ability to fit balls into tight windows is better. He’s not floating anything. He’s always had the brain for the position, so now he has his body ready to go as well. It’s been really fun to see. His next level, now we need him to pick it up, take command and pick up our tempo.”
Peninsula took second in the Class 3A South Sound Conference a season ago, falling to Timberline in the final game of the regular season, 7-3, to fall short of the claiming in the league title.
But this year’s meeting with the Blazers — and any sort of revenge that could potentially accompany it — is the furthest thing from the mind of Filkins or his players.
“Our goal is to go 1-0 every week,” Griffin said, channeling the mindset of his head coach. “The ultimate goal, if we accomplish that each week, then we’ll be league champions. That’s the biggest thing we focus on.”
If the Seahawks are able to do that, it could be a special season in Purdy.
“I think that we know how good we could be,” Griffin said. “We’re a super talented team. We’ve worked really hard. We’re kind of a gritty team. The Purdy Grit is what we’ve got. We’re here to compete for the long haul. We want to compete for a state championship. We think the program is built for us to do that.”
Peninsula opens its season at home against Mt. Spokane on Friday (Sept. 1). Kickoff at Roy Anderson Field is set for 7 p.m.
PENINSULA 2017 SCHEDULE
Friday, Sept. 1: Mt. Spokane at Peninsula, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 8: Peninsula at Stadium, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 15: Peninsula at Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22: Shelton at Peninsula, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 29: Peninsula at Capital, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 6: North Thurston at Peninsula, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 12: Peninsula at Central Kitsap, 7:15 p.m.
Friday Oct. 20: Peninsula at Yelm, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 27: Timberline at Peninsula, 7 p.m.