High School Sports

New coaches, new eras at South Sound’s most successful 4A football programs

Brian Jensen, the former offensive coordinator at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, will now lead the program and carry on its traditions after an offseason promotion to head coach.
Brian Jensen, the former offensive coordinator at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, will now lead the program and carry on its traditions after an offseason promotion to head coach. Staff file, 2012

The South Puget Sound region’s four most illustrious 4A high school football programs — Bellarmine Prep, Curtis, Kentwood and South Kitsap — enter the 2015-16 school year with at least one thing in common.

All have new head football coaches. And they better be ready to win some football.

Brian Jensen went from offensive coordinator to head coach at Bellarmine Prep. Chris Paulson is still a South Puget Sound League coach, he’s just wearing Curtis blue instead of Kentlake red.

Mike Bush, the former football and basketball standout at Washington State University, will coach at Kentwood. And Gavin Kralik returns to the area as South Kitsap’s new coach after stints at Bethel and Texas’ Bay Area Christian.

Their schools have a combined 75 state tournament appearances, have reached 14 state championship games and won seven.

But they aren’t the only area coaches to run first official practices of the year Wednesday — the beginning of the 2015-16 high school football season.

In case you missed it, Jon Kitna left Lincoln, his alma mater, to take over Texas. The former Seattle Seahawks quarterback is already more than a week into practices at Waxahachie High School, which is south of Dallas.

The Abes replaced the star coach with a Hollywood star, sort of, in Masaki Matsumoto. He’ll try to continue building at Lincoln what Kitna started after Matsumoto, a King’s grad, took Hollywood Bernstein High School of Los Angeles from bottom-dweller (4-36 in four seasons) to 29-9 in his three years at the helm.

Timblerline replaced Nick Mullen, now the school’s athletic director, for Mike Spears; Steilacoom hired Rich Lane; Franklin Pierce got Mickey Ahrens; Vashon Island brought in Byrnie Robinson; Kentlake replaced Paulson with Brett Thompson; and Mark Smith is a 2B coach again after a year as Graham-Kapowsin’s athletic director — only he’s now at Chief Leschi after 23 seasons with Tacoma Baptist.

And Foss? It lost Pat Johnson, but found his little brother, Matt Johnson, to replace him.

But all those schools combined are still more than 30 state-tournament appearances short of matching the histories of Bellarmine Prep, Curtis, Kentwood and South Kitsap.

So just what have their new coaches got themselves into?


Brian Jensen’s first reaction to taking over Bellarmine Prep, the Jesuit school founded in 1928 with a deep football tradition?

“I immediately prayed for strength,” Jensen said.

The former Curtis and Central Washington University quarterback has been the Lions’ offensive coordinator for six seasons, with a stint at Idaho State mixed in between. But he’s been with the program for more than a decade.

He said he’s looking forward just as much to the team’s first pregame Mass as the school’s head coach as he is his first game.

“I just want to continue the strong traditions that have been set here by Mike Baldassin and Tom Larsen,” Jensen said. “Continuing that is important. That’s one of the coolest things about this place — being able to be a part of the traditions that have been set by all of those that have gone before us.”


Paulson said Curtis and its University Place community is just what high school football ought to look like.

“It’s more than winning and losing at Curtis,” Paulson said. “There are high expectations in everything — in terms of how you interact with the community and how the kids are doing in the classroom.

“It’s a community with super-high expectations in general, but those are the type of kids you get, too — kids with high expectations at home.”

The Auburn Riverside graduate said he has been speaking with Bob Lucey, who won four state titles at Curtis and is a member of the Washington State Football Coaches Hall of Fame, at least once a week as he prepares to help the Vikings bounce back from a 5-5 season a year ago.

And if he’s not leaning on Lucey, then he’s always got his father-in-law, Auburn High’s football coach Gordy Elliott, or his brother-in-law, Gig Harbor coach Aaron Chantler.


The Conquerors have never had a losing season and only three previous head coaches — David Lutes, Tom Ingles and Rex Norris — in the school’s history.

That tradition of sustainability is something Mike Bush said he plans to continue.

“I want to be here at least 10 years,” said Bush, who has never previously been a head football coach but was an assistant at 4A state champion Bothell last season. “I already bought a house here in Covington, so I’m committed for the long haul.”

He said hasn’t been providing the route-running or coverage examples as often as he did at Bothell, but Bush still has some of that talent left that he used to excel as both a WSU football and basketball player (he earned Pac-10 honors in both sports).

Kentwood was unbeaten in the 4A SPSL Northeast last season before losing to Bellarmine Prep in the playoffs. It travels to Curtis for its first game of the season on Sept. 4.


It might as well have been an eternity since the Wolves last had a winning season —a whole two years.

Kralik is the only of these four 4A coaches taking over a program coming off a losing season. But South Kitsap also has the most state appearances of them all — 25 — and it’s one of the state’s largest schools at 2,000 students, according to 2014-15 data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“The program has so many alumni that have come through it and it means so much to the former players,” Kralik said. “You just realize there is a tremendous responsibility because it is a program that has a place in the hearts of so many people.”

Kralik said SK’s tradition was one of the reasons he was lured back into coaching after returning from a season in Texas.

But only time will tell if these coaches can use their schools’ pasts to spark an even better future.

TJ Cotterill:253-597-8677




The 2015-16 high school football season officially begins across the state Wednesday, the first day of practices. Here are some things to know before the season’s first games.

No pads: At least not for the first three practices. That means no contact, too.

Two-a-days: Teams may schedule a maximum of five two-a-day workouts.

The 12 days of practice: Players have to participate in a minimum of 12 practices to play in a game. Two-a-days only count as one day of practice.

Road to the Dome: The state semifinals are Nov. 27-28 at the Tacoma Dome and at various eastern Washington sites, with the state championships the following week — all at the Tacoma Dome.