More ways to win for the Cougars

"Scott Speck’s head rocks back and his face breaks into a grin the instant the subject of running backs comes up.He nods slowly, knowingly, as if to acknowledge that he’s well prepared for this part of the conversation.The question, the one he’s obviously anticipated, is “How in the world does life go on without Anthony Rodriguez and Andy Lay?”Speck’s been around long enough to know the answer.“Oh, we’re going to miss them,” Speck says of his 1998 backfield duo, which rushed for more than 1,000 yards apiece and provided the leadership his young Cougar linemen needed. “They don’t come around very often like that as a tandem.”The combination — bruising, relentless Rodriguez inside and shifty, speedy Lay outside — provided CK with a 1-2 punch that allowed them to lean lightly on the young arm of sophomore quarterback Dylan Robbins, and gain yards while an inexperienced offensive line sorted itself out.In some ways, they made the Cougars’ 1998 season the success it was — a 3-3 wash in the late, not-very-lamented Olympic League, and 4-5 with a difficult trio of preseason games added in.Perhaps more important, though, they bought the Cougs time — time to develop Robbins into the guy who probably will be under center for the next two years; time for a new group of linemen to gel.Both those elements — the quarterback and the line — will be more mature this season, when the Cougars make the jump from the maddening days of the Oly League’s double round-robin to the spiffy new confines of the Narrows League Bridge Division.And the new era of CK running backs? They’ll be just fine, in Speck’s opinion.“What we’ve got is a dogfight” for the running back positions,” Speck says. “There’s some good athletes there, some good kids fighting for playing time.”The wild card is Ryan Calliham, a senior who nonetheless has yet to take his first varsity snap. The 185-pounder, who won league sprint championships in the 100 and 200-meter dashes as a sophomore, was injured during a summer football camp prior to his junior year that shelved him not only for football, but also for last spring’s track season.“He’s a big question mark,” Speck says of Calliham, who’ll be tested for the first time in a four-team jamboree this Friday, Sept. 3 at Issaquah. “I’ll tell you what, though, he’s got a ton of potential. He could help us a lot.”Even with a healthy Calliham, though, it’s a good bet that two juniors — Eric Roy and Eric Dickinson — also will get a fair number of carries. Both have good size and speed — Roy was a star sprinter for the Cougar track team last spring, while Dickinson was starring in left field in baseball.The line, anchored by 280-pounders Josh Chapman and Mike Murray and quick Geoff Guerra (who plays linebacker on defense), should start the season way ahead of where it was last year, when all-leaguer Antoine Murkins was the only returning starter.That, and Robbins’ year of experience, should allow the Cougars to open the offense up. They threw, well, sparingly in ’98.Then again, they had Rodriguez and Lay, and every time they threw was one less chance for one of that twosome to break off a long gainer.As Speck said following Rodriguez’ 275-yard, 42 carry outing in a win over North Kitsap, “If the cow’s giving milk, you sure as heck don’t shoot the thing for the hamburger.”As for the switch to the Narrows League — which offers up new competition in the form of perennial state power South Kitsap, as well as Gig Harbor, Peninsula, Bremerton and a crossover game with a Bay Division counterpart — Speck welcomes the change.“I think it’s more interesting for our kids and for our fans, and it’s more competitive,” he says. “I don’t think anybody liked playing the same teams twice every year.“The biggest problem with that was complacency,” he adds, his mouth twitching into a half-grin, half-sneer. “To beat a team the first time around was almost a handicap. You expected to beat them the second time.”Such was the case for CK last year against lowly Port Angeles, victim of a 38-0 Cougar demolition the first time out. The Cougs had to block a last-second field goal try to survive their second meeting with the Roughriders, however.“This year, every challenge is a new and different one,” Speck says.For his own team, though, the challenge remains the same.“We’re the same every year,” he says. “We’re going to get out there and trout our best to improve every day. We’ve got high expectations for ourselves, and we’re working hard to get there.”"

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