After an offseason where Cascade Christian High retooled and reloaded its football team, the Cougars are ready for the start of the season on Saturday (Sept 5).
The reigning Class 1A state champion Cougars and a coaching staff led by Randy Davis is looking like a team that can stay on top of the Nisqually League and make a deep playoff run come November.
And for the Cougars to defend their Class 1A state title, they will rely on, well, their defense.
“We had a great camp, but we’re going to rely on our seniors like we always do — our senior line especially,” Davis said. “The numbers aren’t there (on the roster), but this senior class has embraced the leadership role.”
It’s a bit of a flip in strengths on defense. After Cascade Christian had three quarters of its linebacker core — arguably 1A’s top position group in state in 2014 — graduate last June, the Cougars will look to their line and backfield to lead them this season.
“I think this is the most balanced (defensive) we’ve had in years,” defensive coordinator Devin Snyder said. “We’re definitely stronger up front and in the back this year, and we expect to (play) just like we did last year. The expectations don’t change for us.”
Nothing seems to change at Cascade Christian, even if there are new faces on defense. No longer can the Cougars simply push around and bully opponents like they did with their championship-winning defense last season.
“We’re definitely going to be different,” linebacker Kyler Milton said. “But even if our (linebackers aren’t) as strong as we were last year, I think we can still be as dominant.”
With a roster filled with potential, Snyder has found another way to keep his unit one of the state’s best. Speed will be the Cougars biggest asset on defense, especially with a backfield led by Payton Barry.
“With the speed on our line and with our backs, we’ll be flying to ball this year. We’re going to be really good,” Barry said. “I believe we can be (a team) that can say they’re back-to-back champions.”
Berry, a Cascade Christian safety, was flying to the ball last year before an injury took him out before the team’s state playoff run.
But the senior safety is back, ready to continue where he left off in flying around the field and getting into the thick of things on defense. Berry will be integral to the Cougar defense this season.
“He missed half the season last year, but I look for a really big season out of him,” Davis said about Berry. “He’s a guy that’s not only embraced the leadership role, he keeps the guys loose as he’s a happy-go-lucky kid. But when the practice comes, he leads the team by example.”
After an offseason of recovery, Barry has looked every bit the part of his former self during August camp.
“It was rough last year missing half season, but I’m just glad to be back here and be injury free so far,” Barry joked. “We’re the best (Class 1A) school at football. When it comes to football, we have the best team vibe — we call it ‘The Brotherhood’ because we’re all family.”
It’s the ability to see the field and react at the speed Berry can that will give Cascade Christian an added element that can make things tough on opponents.
“To go back to back and be one of those teams to do that, Payton’s one of those players that really wants to push his teammates (to that),” Snyder said.
But it’s his ability to make his team believe the way he does about this football staff that will make the Cougars dominant.
“More than the championships, it’s what we want to leave that anyone of us can come to each other, talk about anything,” Berry said of the trust Cascade Christian teammates built amongst the team. “And of course, a championship is a big thing to get.”
Offensive coordinator Brian Flattum faces his biggest challenge in four years in getting the offense up and running for the state title defense. After building two separate, championship-winning offenses, Davis is fully confident in Flattum to get these Cougars rolling.
“Brian has been with me the whole time … when you surround yourself with great coaches, you let them coach,” Davis said.
And that’s exactly what Flattum has done over the offseason and summer camps, coaching up an offense that has speed in all phases of the game.
“We’re going to be faster definitely, especially on our line,” Flattum said. “They are on the smaller size, but they will surprise teams with how strong they are.”
All the positions are set backed by a solid offensive line and with explosive potential at receiver and running back. The only problem — the quarterback position.
“That’s the thing when you have a four-year starter — you don’t need to worry about your quarterback,” Flattum quipped. “(This year) we have a little bit of an open competition that we didn’t think was going to be there at the start of camp. I’ll have whoever we choose ready for (Saturday).”
It can be either junior Jake Nielsen or Austin Carder. Or the Cougars can take the same route that they did with Jaelin Goldsmith four years ago and plug in freshman Michael Gurr right away.
Whatever happens, Flattum will have the offense flying come Saturday.
Cascade Christian will travel to the University of Washington to play Sehome, out of the 2A Northwest League, at Husky Stadium. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m.