Trojans look to take next step

Olympic football coach Eric Allen yells instructions to his players as they run line drills at practice on Thursday. In his third season, Allen is hoping the team can take off in the Olympic League. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
Olympic football coach Eric Allen yells instructions to his players as they run line drills at practice on Thursday. In his third season, Allen is hoping the team can take off in the Olympic League.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

All one needed to do to gauge the progress of Olympic’s football team was simply attend a practice.

“Let’s go hard or go home fellas! Let’s go!” an Oly player yelled as the team began to run lines Thursday.

Prior to coach Eric Allen’s arrival in 2005, such calls were often few and far between, almost always coming from coaches rather than players. Especially during a mundane running drill.

But with two years to get his system up and running, and coming off a successful 5-5 season last year (Oly’s first .500 or better year since 1999), Allen is confident that 2007 is shaping up to be a special year for the Olympic football squad.

“He made us work a lot harder during practices,” senior quarterback Erik Gratz said. “He gets us ready for the season, to beat teams. It’s a great feeling.”

After all, this year’s seniors are the first group under Allen for their entire high school careers.

“It’s really special to us,” Gratz said. “He’s been like a father to all us seniors through the whole thing.”

The season is sure to mean a lot to Allen too.

“Of course. It’s gonna be a hard year for me,” Allen said. “Regardless of wins and losses, they’ve meant a lot to this program. I’m just hoping good things for the seniors this year.”

Good things could come too, with the Olympic League up for grabs following graduations, coaching changes and more continued resurgence.

In one corner is defending league champ Peninsula, which completed an undefeated run through the Oly League a year ago, the first for the resurrected league.

But gone are 21 seniors from 2006, including quarterback-receiver tandem Rees Yaden and JD Neumeister, as well as defensive stalwart Jayde Delgado.

Port Angeles, the league’s runner-up after going 6-3, not only lost its most dynamic offensive presence in quarterback Stefan Walker to graduation, but also has a new coaching staff this year. Overall, the Roughriders lost 15 seniors.

As for Bremerton, the ever-emerging Knights, 1-9 last year, are rumored to have more size and depth this season behind Nate Gillam, also in his third year.

“I think it’s as wide open as it’s ever been,” Allen said. “Peninsula was the favorite last year and they proved it obviously. But Port Angeles with a new coaching staff. Coach Gillam and Bremerton — they’ll be ripe to get wins this year. It could be anyone’s race.”

But regardless of what happens in league play, Allen said he knows his team will be competitive once again.

“The third year is definitely a transition period,” he said. “It’s where you hope to take that next step.”

Gratz agreed, saying he’s very excited to be lining up with his teammates once again.

“It’s great,” he said. “I love being back out here with our teammates. It’s an amazing feeling. There’s nothing like football season.”

“It’s been a great start,” Allen said. “It’s good to have the guys back. A lot are in great shape. It’s my favorite time of year.”

Olympic lost 14 seniors, most notably wide receiver/defensive backs Vic Chatman (also the team’s return man), Brandon Fisher (one of the team’s best athletes) and Patrich Kendl. Gone are linebacker standouts Doug Weable, Colin Barrett and Caleb Williams. Linemen Bronson Ko and Kevin Siperek both graduated, as did all-league punter Jimmy Groat.

But Allen’s optimistic that those holes won’t be as hard to fill as one might think, even with numbers down to about 70 this year.

“I expected that,” Allen said. “The expectations we have for student-athletes is a little high for some students here. So we’re taking the ones we have. And those guys are the types of kids you win championships with.”

In addition to the return of Gratz, the team also will see key players coming back like running and defensive backs Chris Lane, Tao Smith and Ross Payne. Running back and lineman Rashad Greene is back, as is Nolan Quinn. David Reynolds will return to help anchor down the line and Garrett Brown will help fill the linebacker spot.

That doesn’t even include key newcomers, as Allen said he expects several of his sophomores to see substantial time.

“We’ve got a good group of about six of seven sophomores that will contribute for us,” Allen said.

That all adds up to what Allen hopes could be a big year for the Trojans.

“I think the next step is they have to believe they’re a championship-caliber team,” Allen said. “That’s a big step to take. But they’re ready for it.”

Olympic kicks off the 2007 season Friday with a 5 p.m. game against Central Kitsap in the 35th Battle of Bucklin Hill. CK leads the overall series 20-14, but Olympic won last year 9-6 in overtime. Olympic is the home team for the game at Silverdale Stadium.

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