Cougs looking to climb

Central Kitsap football coach Mark Keel watches his players go through special teams drills on August 15, the opening day for fall high school football camps. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Central Kitsap football coach Mark Keel watches his players go through special teams drills on August 15, the opening day for fall high school football camps.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Last year, Central Kitsap was young.

The Cougars had 19 seniors, but a lot of the key positions, including the line, were manned by sophomores and juniors. So with that experience coming back, CK coach Mark Keel is excited.

“It’s really good,” he said of his large returning core. “And we’ll be younger again, grade-wise.”

This year, CK will field just 11 seniors out of its 78-man turnout. But that’s where experience comes in.

“The young guys have really been stepping up lately,” senior lineman Will Morris said. “They started a little slow, but now they’re firing on all cylinders. They’re a bigger part of the whole team.”

But in a game won and lost in the trenches, the emphasis will be on the line more than ever on both sides of the ball.

“Our O-line is a lot better,” said returning running back Howard McDonald, a junior.. “We have more experience for the line. Hopefully we can do a lot better than we did last year.”

Last year was a disappointing one for CK. After coming out of the gates with optimism, the team stumbled in a 9-6 loss to rivals Olympic in the Battle of Bucklin Hill, committing 19 penalties in the contest. They went on to fall in seven straight before finishing the year strong on a three-game win streak.

“They went through a learning process last year,” Keel said. “It was a tough learning process. But we have lots of confidence.”

That gave the young Cougs a taste of victory, something Keel said they’re hungry for more of.

“We’re coming off a three-game win streak,” Keel said. “We have that mentality. That’s kind of our focus. We just want to keep going off last year. We’ll build from there.”

Junior Jason Simonis will be back under center for CK, replacing quarterback Matt Tougas. Also graduated were seniors Derek Smith (running back), John Sanchez (running back/linebacker), Brad Durham (wide receiver/defensive back), Casey Knowles (wide receiver/defensive back) and linemen Jeff Goffin and Sam Newell.

But joining Simonis as key returners are all-state tight end Caleb Brown (now playing safety defensively), wideout/defensive backs Venecom Griffin, Glenn Hewey and Shawn McBride, linemen Mike Crowley, Greg Gole, Cecil Spence and Cameron Salley.

Morris, a member of that line, said the group is playing tighter so far this year.

“We’re a lot more comfortable together,” Morris said. “We know what the other person is doing. It’s nice to have more experienced guys. They know the system. They know what we’re doing.”

Keel agreed, saying that’s given the Cougs a chance to focus on little things.

“First off is experience,” Keel said. “We were able to do a lot more during our training camp because we had guys knowing what we’re trying to get done.

That’s how schools who have 80-90 guys turing out, that’s how they get ahead.”

Simonis, listed at 6-feet, 1-inch and 140 pounds last year, has grown quite a bit. Keel said that allows them to do things they couldn’t at the quarterback position.

“And Simonis, he morphed,” Keel said. “We’re looking at different things to do with him that we couldn’t last year.”

But in having arguably Kitsap County’s top recruit in Brown isn’t bad either, Keel said.

“We’re gonna try to do some different things with Caleb. That’s probably the biggest thing,” he said.

With the core of the team remaining young, Keel said key sophomores will continue to get a chance to play.

“It’s good,” he said. “We feel confident with those young guys we’re putting on the field.”

The team has had to rely on leadership from across the ranks as well, prompting Keel and the staff to constantly remind one another of some things.

“It’s so funny,” Keel said. “We’re always having to remind ourselves that the juniors coming up are not seniors. The best thing about this group is they’re passing this to the younger guys. We don’t have a bunch of separation on the team.”

With the Narrows League Bay Division runner-up Mount Tahoma undergoing a fair amount of upheaval in terms of players leaving the team and the coaching staff turnover, Keel said the opportunity is there to move up. But he also said the team must keep focused on the present this season.

“We felt pretty good about our league last year,” he said. “We played well defensively. We just couldn’t put any points on the board. A lot of that was mistakes. We’re looking to clean that up.”

But no matter what happens on the field, Keel said it’s still a great feeling to be back out.

“It really feels good,” he said. “It feels better and better each year. The guys are starting to understand what we’re trying to get done.”

Central Kitsap will be the away team Friday in the 35th Battle of Bucklin Hill against crosstown rivals Olympic. CK leads the all-time series 20-14 despite last year’s loss. The game kicks off at 5 p.m. at Silverdale Stadium.

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