High School Sports

3A SSC football team previews

Michael Barnes (center) is expected to be a big playmaker for Timberline as the program looks to defend its league title.
Michael Barnes (center) is expected to be a big playmaker for Timberline as the program looks to defend its league title. toverman@theolympian.com

2017 CLASS 3A SOUTH SOUND CONFERENCE FOOTBALL PRIMER

On the throne

Timberline won a thriller — with a goal-line stand — against Peninsula last year to seal the league’s inaugural title. This season, the Blazers want to defend it and the Seahawks want to take it away.

Change is good

Capital, Gig Harbor and Timberline have new head coaches, but you’ve seen them all before. Darren Tinnerstet was a longtime assistant for the Cougars. George Fairhart joins the Tides from Eatonville. And Mullen resumes his position with the Blazers — he took a two-year break after being hired as the school’s athletic director.

By the numbers

This league sent three teams — Gig Harbor, Peninsula and Timberline — to the state playoffs last season. Peninsula advanced the furthest before losing in the quarterfinals.

Projected finish

Timberline (8-3 last year), Peninsula (10-2), Capital (6-4), Gig Harbor (6-5), Yelm (5-5), Central Kitsap (5-5), North Thurston (2-8), Shelton (3-7).

Mark the date

Oct. 27: Timberline at Peninsula, 7 p.m., Roy Anderson Field in Purdy

CAPITAL COUGARS

Coach: Darren Tinnerstet, first year

2016 record: 6-4, third in 3A SSC, lost in district playoffs

Offense: Coordinator — Darren Tinnerstet (multiple). Returning starters — 7. Top players — OL Mason Bertelli, 6-1, 250, jr.; WR Jack Collard, 6-3, 200, sr.; QB Grant Erickson, 6-6, 210, jr.; RB Eric Jackson, 5-9, 190, jr.; WR Chris Penner, 6-0, 185, jr.; OL Sam Rupert, 6-1, 215, sr.; RB Nate Tyler, 6-0, 200, sr.

Defense: Coordinator — Greg Hibbard and Terry Dion (multiple). Returning starters — 5. Top players — DB Jack Collard, 6-3, 200, sr.; DB Reagan Divina, 5-8, 160, jr.; DB Ryan Guscott, 6-1, 185, sr.; DL Jesse Mattson, 6-3, 200, sr.; DB Chris Penner, 6-0, 185, jr.; DL Paden Riske, 5-11, 225, sr.; LB Nate Tyler, 6-0, 200, sr.; LB Chase Vandiver, 5-10, 200, sr.

Outlook: Tinnerstet took over for longtime coach JD Johnson late in the summer, but was an assistant for Johnson for several years. Tinnerstet was also the quarterback when Capital won its first state title in 1996, so he knows the program well. The Cougars haven’t missed the playoffs in a decade, and look to continue that run behind Penner, who led the league in receiving (43 catches, 627 yards, seven TDs) and interceptions (eight) as a junior. Erickson is also back and healthy from a season-ending shoulder injury suffered against Timberline last September.

CENTRAL KITSAP COUGARS

Coach: Mark Keel, 18th year

2016 record: 5-5, fifth in 3A SSC

Offense: Coordinator — Mark Keel (pistol). Top players — RB Tristan Barr, 5-10, 190, sr.; WR Ja’Quirious Conley, 6-1, 175, soph.; QB Bradley Dykstra, 5-9, 160, jr.; WR Elijah McGee, 5-10, 155, jr.; WR Austin McMinds, 6-1, 180, jr.; OL Avery Schuette, 5-11, 220, jr.; RB Darikus Welborne, 5-8, 190, sr.; TE Caleb Wood, 6-1, 200, sr.; OL Reece Wood, 5-7, 220, sr.

Defense: Coordinator — Eric Schuette (4-3). Top players — LB Tristan Barr, 5-10, 190, sr.; DB Ja’Quirious Conley, 6-1, 175, soph.; DB Bradley Dykstra, 5-9, 160, jr.; DB Elijah McGee, 5-10, 155, jr.; DB Austin McMinds, 6-1, 180, jr.; DL Avery Schuette, 5-11, 220, jr.; DB Darikus Welborne, 5-8, 190, sr.; LB Caleb Wood, 6-1, 200, sr.; DL Reece Wood, 5-7, 220, sr.

Outlook: The Cougars’ speed will be their strength this year. Welborne should get plenty of touches at running back, and Conley is projected to be a playmaker outside. Dykstra and senior Angel Davila are in a two-way battle at quarterback. Tyler Tubbs, a two-year starter at the position, moved to wide receiver. Central Kitsap’s defense is expected to carry the team early on.

GIG HARBOR TIDES

Coach: George Fairhart, first year

2016 record: 6-5, fourth in 3A SSC, lost in first round of state playoffs

Offense: Coordinator — Jeff Mladenich (spread). Returning starters — 5. Top players — QB Ryan Baerg, 6-0, 185, sr.; OL Zach Batanian, 6-0, 205, sr.; OL Nick Belarde, 6-3, 285, jr.; OL Taylor Elligsen, 6-0, 230, sr.; WR Kellen Gregorn, 6-2, 205, sr.; WR Jurrian Hering, 6-1, 170, jr.; WR Ben Hollenbeck, 5-10, 160, jr.; WR Ryan King, 5-7, 145, jr.; QB Nick Yockey, 6-2, 190, sr.

Defense: Coordinator — Don Clegg (multiple). Returning starters — 5. Top players — DL Jake Flynn, 6-3, 205, soph.; DB Jurrian Hering, 6-1, 170, jr.; DB Ben Hollenbeck, 5-10, 160, jr.; DB Mark Kimball, 5-10, 165, sr.; LB Ryan King, 5-7, 145, jr.; DL Malik Livingston, 5-11, 210, jr.; LB CP Loughren, 5-10, 160, jr.; DL Brendon Rivera, 6-3, 250, soph.; LB Tommy Williams, 5-10, 190, jr.

Outlook: Gig Harbor has a new head coach roaming the sidelines this year in Fairhart, a longtime coach at Eatonville, who took over for Aaron Chantler. The Tides will look similar, running a spread offense, but Fairhart's wing-T could make some appearances. Yockey and Baerg are vying for the starting quarterback position, and Gregory provides big play ability for the Tides at wide receiver.

NORTH THURSTON RAMS

Coach: William Garrow, second year

2016 record: 2-8, eighth in 3A SSC

Offense: Coordinator — William Garrow (wing-T). Returning starters — 5. Top players — OL Kai Burgman, 6-2, 225, jr.; RB Zion Kirk, 5-8, 185, sr.; TE Noah Winder, 6-1, 200, sr.

Defense: Coordinator — Anthony Le (odd). Returning starters — 4. Top players — LB Zion Kirk, 5-8, 185, sr.; DL Tanner Marriott, 5-11, 200, sr.; LB Keanu Schell, 6-0, 210, sr.

Outlook: Winder returns at tight end for the Rams, who have three more starters returning to the offensive line. That should give Kirk — who was a second-team 3A SSC selection as a junior at linebacker — some room to run. North Thurston’s defense lost two-time Olympian All-Area linebacker Ryan Burgman, and will have to reload quickly on both sides of the ball to contend with the league’s top teams, including crosstown rival Timberline.

PENINSULA SEAHAWKS

Coach: Ross Filkins, 22nd year

2016 record: 10-2, second in 3A SSC, lost in state quarterfinals

Offense: Coordinator — Jim Fairfield (multi-spread). Returning starters — 4. Top players — WR Alex Beloate, 5-9, 160, sr.; QB Blake Griffen, 5-10, 170, sr.; RB Braeden Potter, 6-0, 180, jr.; OL Jonathan Ruud, 6-1, 255, sr.; OL Khalif Spry, 6-3, 275, jr.; OL Joe Weron, 5-11, 215, sr.

Defense: Coordinator — Mauritz Winquist (The Ameoba D). Returning starters — 4. Top players — DB Braeden Potter, 6-0, 180, jr.; DL Jonathan Ruud, 6-1, 255, sr.; DL Khalif Spry, 6-3, 275, jr.; LB Joe Weron, 5-11, 215, sr.

Outlook: Peninsula will be tasked with replacing a huge senior class, but the Seahawks feel up to it. They return Griffin, who put on some muscle during the offseason and said the game continues to slow down for him. Shifty running back Potter is poised for a breakout year, while speedy receiver Beloate provides a deep threat for Griffin. The Seahawks will look for a little revenge against league foe Timberline, who claimed the title against them last season with a 7-3 win.

SHELTON HIGHCLIMBERS

Coach: Matt Hinkle, 22nd year

2016 record: 3-7, seventh in 3A SSC

Offense: Coordinator — Matt Hinkle (multiple). Returning starters — 5. Top players — WR Travis Colbenson, 6-1, 175, sr.; OL Wyatt Free, 6-1, 225, sr.; RB Troy Goodwin, 5-11, 180, jr.; OL Rigo Lepe, 5-10, 230, sr.; WR Evan Rhodes, 5-11, 175, sr.

Defense: Coordinator — James Sobotka (even front). Returning starters — 5. Top players — DB Travis Colbenson, 6-1, 175, sr.; DL JJ Equihua, 6-1, 195, sr.; DB Troy Goodwin, 5-11, 180, jr.; LB Cody Hall, 6-1, 200, sr.; DB Evan Rhodes, 5-11, 175, sr.

Outlook: Rhodes, a former wide receiver, moves into the quarterback position after two-year starter Tyler Giraldes graduated. Giraldes transformed Shelton’s historical ground-and-pound offense into an air raid during his career, but the Highclimbers are seeking more of a balance this season, Hinkle said. Goodwin returns at running back, and Colbenson is projected to be a top target for Rhodes. Hall is expected to lead Shelton on defense.

TIMBERLINE BLAZERS

Coach: Nick Mullen, ninth (first year back after two-year absence)

2016 record: 8-3, first in 3A SSC, lost in first round of state playoffs

Offense: Coordinator — Rikki Reid (pistol multiple). Returning starters — 4. Top players — RB/WR Michael Barnes, 5-11, 190, sr.; OL Chase Bowes, 6-1, 270, sr.; OL Conner Warick, 6-5, 225, sr.

Defense: Coordinator — Nick Mullen (33 multiple). Returning starters — 7. Top players — DB Michael Barnes, 5-11, 190, sr.; DL Chase Bowes, 6-1, 270, sr.; LB Ty Edmond, 5-10, 200, sr.; LB MJ Montgomery, 6-0, 205, sr.; DL Conner Warick, 6-5, 225, sr.

Outlook: The defending league champions would prefer to stay at the top — and have the veterans to make it happen. Several linemen — including Olympian All-Area selections Jaelen Bush (Oregon State) and Camren Bowes — graduated, but the Blazers still look strong with Chase Bowes and Warick returning. The Blazers have speed, too. Barnes rushed for 550 yards, and scored eight total touchdowns, as a back-up to league MVP Anthony Hathaway a season ago. Barnes is also expected to lead the secondary, and with his speed, is a threat in every phase.

YELM TORNADOS

Coach: Jason Ronquillo, fifth year

2016 record: 5-5, sixth in 3A SSC

Offense: Coordinator — Bryan Irion (multiple). Returning starters — 5. Top players — OL Jacob Dimond, 6-6, 285, jr.; WR Kodee Gifford, 5-10, 175, jr.; RB Alex Morris, 6-0, 185, sr.; RB James Palmer, 5-10, 190, sr.; QB Kyle Robinson, 5-10, 185, jr.

Defense: Coordinator — Todd Cordova (3-3). Returning starters — 6. Top players — LB Nate Clark, 6-0, 180, sr.; DB Jacob McCown, 5-9, 160, sr.; DB Alex Morris, 6-0, 185, sr.; LB Derrick Platt, 6-0, 195, jr.

Outlook: Look for James Palmer — who transferred from 1A College Place at the start of his junior season — to make a big impact on Yelm’s run game, which saw leading rusher Brandon Thompson (1,353 all-purpose yards last year) graduate in the spring. Robinson is back at quarterback after winning the job midway through his sophomore season — he averaged 138 yards passing per game after he took over. Yelm’s leading tackler Platt is also back, along with McCown (three interceptions) and Morris (21-yard average on kick returns).

Staff writer Jon Manley contributed to this report.

Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473, @smithlm12

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