Marques Fuala’au had little else on his mind this offseason other than football, getting back to the playoffs and going further than the first round.
Not even Monday’s solar eclipse.
“Especially with this being my senior year, it’s all I’ve been thinking about,” said Fuala’au, Kentlake High School’s 6-foot-2, 215-pound soon-to-be three-year starting inside linebacker.
The Falcons’ final game of the 2016 season left a sour taste in his mouth. They met Graham-Kapowsin in the 4A district playoffs and the South Sound’s top running back, G-K’s Micah Smith, gained 250 rushing yards in the 55-28 win.
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That’s not Kentlake.
Kentlake is defense, molded by coach Brett Thompson, the former News Tribune All-Area selection as Auburn Riverside’s linebacker who continued his play at Western Washington University. The Falcons had allowed 370 rushing yards the previous nine games combined (41.1 yards per game) as the No. 1 rushing defense in the 4A North Puget Sound League before that playoff game.
“I definitely think what we learned the most is we needed to get in the weight room,” Fuala’au said. “They really took advantage of our size last year.”
And he got a taste of what college linemen look like, colliding with G-K’s five-star left tackle Foster Sarell, who is now at Stanford University.
Fuala’au will be the leader of Kentlake’s defense again this year, while also spending time as a bruising running back on offense. But during Monday’s practice he also filled in on the scout team offense at left guard and left tackle – showing he might be just as good in the trenches.
“That’s Foster Sarell!” he exclaimed after he drove one of his teammates into the grass outfield where they practiced.
Kentlake was relegated to practicing on the baseball field because the soccer team was using the turf field. And because it used its usual morning practice time to do some team bonding and watch an anticlimactic solar eclipse. A team mom supplied the protective eclipse glasses.
“These guys are having fun,” Thompson said. “I think the group is coming together as a team and a family more than any group I’ve had so far.”
This is his third season. Kentlake went 4-6 two years ago and 7-3 last season.
“It’s not just lip service,” Thompson said. “They are buying in. You hear more positive talk, more encouragement than I’ve heard in practices in years past. That’s probably because we put in more time in the weight room.”
That doesn’t mean a return trip to the postseason will be easy. The Falcons lost three of their defensive linemen, as well as Eddie Edwards IV, the first-team all-4A NPSL Cascade running back and the division’s special teams player of the year.
Kentlake will be smaller. And it’s figuring out its quarterback between senior Brandon Mortenson and junior Hudson Potts, who started at safety last year and led the team with three interceptions.
“We’re starting to learn the system more,” Potts said. “We came into two-a-days this year and everybody already knew the offense. In the past it seemed like it took us a while to get into it.”
But the offense will come. Defense is first.
Kentlake also returns fellow inside linebacker Tony Heimann II, and Carson Lucas missed all of last year with a broken leg, but returns this year at outside linebacker.
“We preach defense around here,” Thompson said. “We want to be No. 1 in run defense. That’s core. I know a lot of teams spread the ball, but we still want to take away the run, always. That’s never going to change.”
Kentwood was the next best team in the league against the run last year, allowing 107.7 yards per game.
Kentlake was also No. 1 in scoring defense in the Cascade division (14.9 points per game) and No. 1 in total defense (190.4 yards per game).
“I want negative rushing yards if we can,” Fuala’au said.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677