The Mount Tahoma High School football team hasn’t had it easy the past three years.
Not with back-to-back winless seasons followed by a single win last year – in now-second-year coach Ricky Daley’s first game.
But this year’s team hopes to change the culture.
Senior quarterback Adrian Allen returns after a solid junior campaign. Allen, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and also plays on Mount Tahoma’s basketball team, said he is hoping this season leads to both some scholarship offers and even a playoff appearance.
Daley plans to utilize Allen’s athleticism in a variety of roles this season, shifting him to wide receiver, tight end or running back occasionally and handing the keys to the offense to junior quarterback Braxton Ballard-Swenson.
“This year’s team will be more of a passing team,” Daley said. “We won’t have to rely so much on the running game.”
Allen will also play defensive end, cornerback or linebacker on defense.
Shayne Carpenter is a returning receiver and second-team all-3A Narrows League cornerback. Daley said he has also been impressed with defensive lineman Ke’von Thomas and linebacker Sua Liufau, who led the team in tackles last season and is the cousin of former Bellarmine Prep standout and current University of Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau.
But winning won’t come easy. Not with more than 15 players ineligible because of grades for at least the first five weeks of the season.
That’s an improvement from last year, Daley said, when the team was missing 25 players to academic ineligibility.
He said they’ve since assigned player pods. Each pod, a group of 6-8 players, has one coach overlooking it as they try to lift each other academically.
Monday’s practice, with the Thunderbirds’ season opener on Friday against Mt. Douglas of Vancouver, B.C., was tense, including some arguments.
“Last year one of our biggest challenges was we were arguing with each other a lot,” Carpenter said. “We still have some in-fighting at practice. It gets kind of annoying.”
This school year marks the 35th anniversary of Mount Tahoma’s second consecutive state title. It beat Issaquah during the 1980-81 school year, 21-3, in the state championship after beating Rogers the year before.
It’s been four years since the Thunderbirds last had a winning record. Getting back to that won’t be easy, but, in a league that has more questions than answers, Daley said this team could still find itself fighting for a playoff berth at season’s end.
The News Tribune will visit 17 high school football practices in the 14 days leading up to the first Football Friday of the season, breaking down some of the teams, players and storylines entering the 2015-16 season.
The tour will include three schools from the 4A Narrows League, four teams from the 4A SPSL, two from the 3A Narrows League, two from the 3A SPSL, one from the 2A Evergreen Conference, two from the 2A SPSL, one from the 1A Evergreen, one from the 1A Nisqually and one from the 2B Pacific.
Teams will be revealed each day, starting with the first day of official practices Wednesday, Aug. 19.
TNT PRESEASON PRACTICE TOUR
Practice preview: South Sound’s four most illustrious 4A schools enter new eras
Aug. 19: Timberline Blazers
Aug. 22: Kentlake Falcons
Aug. 26: Black Hills Wolves
Aug. 28: Yelm Tornados
Aug. 29: Clover Park Warriors
Aug. 31: Mount Tahoma Thunderbirds
Sept. 1: Eatonville Cruisers
Sept. 2: Charles Wright Tarriers
Sept. 3: Sumner Spartans
LEAGUE FOOTBALL PREVIEWS
In-depth look at some of the top storylines, team-by-team breakdown, games to watch and predictions from the 4A Narrows, 4A SPSL, 3A Narrows, 3A SPSL, 2A SPSL, and 1A Nisqually, as well as capsules from other area small-school teams.
State football overview: Dual-threat QBs have Auburn Mountainview, Gig Habor thinking state
Preseason TNT All-State football team: Graham-Kapowsin’s Foster Sarell on of nation’s top 2017 recruits
3A Narrows: Is that Xavier Cooper? Or Wilson’s A.J. Ruffin?
2A Evergreen: Team capsules
1A Nisqually: Team capsules. Story Saturday.
Small schools: Team capsules