There is something going on at Sunset Stadium in Sumner.
Something fierce. Something devastating.
Something tremendously tough.
“That’s a term we love to use here,” said Sumner head coach Keith Ross. “We’re born and bred with toughness. We don’t try to outsmart anyone, we just want our kids to play hard with tremendous toughness. This is a special defense.”
The Spartans’ defense might be the driving force behind a state championship after all is said and done in 2017. It nearly was last season, when Sumner went 9-0 in the regular season and reached the 4A state semifinals before losing to Camas.
Everything starts in the middle, where Texas Christian University commit Ben Wilson roams the field, just waiting to lay down a hit. He led the SPSL 4A in tackles (110), tackles for loss (12), and had 5.5 sacks in his junior campaign.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever coached,” Ross said. “He’s a special athlete and a true leader. He’s the alpha-male of the state. I don’t think there is a better defensive player in the state.”
Wilson said his job is made easier by the defensive line in front of him, which is led by Logan Mayer, a second-team all-area selection last year. They will rarely allow opposing linemen into the second level, allowing him to see the field and be unabated to wrap up ball carriers.
“Our front eight is the best part of our team,” Wilson said. “There should be very little points scored from the run game. It’s nice to have four big guys up front to help me out. I just get clean hits on everybody and easier reads.”
If there were a spot that might be challenged, it would be in the defensive backfield, where three sophomores are slated to see significant playing time.
But they will also have a veteran in their ranks in Tre Weed, who led the 4A SPSL in interceptions last season and also rushed for over 1,000 yards.
“He’s very versatile,” Ross said. “We’re going to get the most out of Tre we can. With his physical skill set, he can play a lot of positions. He’s long and strong and fast. It’s nice to have him.”
Weed has taken it upon himself to be the leader of the defensive backs, hoping to impart some of his wisdom and experience on the group.
“We for sure have some young guys coming up, but I’m confident in what they can do,” Weed said. “I’ve been pushing them and telling them all I’ve learned over the years about being a DB.”
The bond between Weed and Wilson, who have been playing together for their entire careers, is apparent on and off the field.
“We’re like yin and yang,” Wilson said. “He’s the shifty guy and I just run over people. We match each other in a lot of different ways. We’re friends on and off the field.”
“We’ve been working together great,” Weed added. “We’re both running backs and leaders on the defense. If we’re not on the field, we’re hanging out at the lake or playing Madden.”
While the defense benefits from having its core back, the offense must figure out how to replace The News Tribune’s all-area player of the year, Connor Wedington. Ross thinks Weed is capable, but knows its going to take more than one player to fill the shoes of Wedington, who had 2,048 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns in 2016.
“We’re losing Connor (Wedington) who had 24 touchdowns, but Tre had 30,” Ross said. “We’re going to replace Connor with a committee and I think that helps us a bit. Kids know we don’t have Connor anymore and they have to step up.”
Ross expects a fierce challenge from a loaded SPSL this season. Graham-Kapowsin will obviously be the matchup to witness, but Ross said he sees Curtis and Olympia as strong teams to watch.
The Spartans open their season with the Helmet Bowl against Bonney Lake. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sept. 1 at Sunset Chevrolet Stadium.