Cougars gear up for season

It all starts up front.

That isn’t the team motto at Central Kitsap High, just a way of life.

Coming off a 4-6 record, the Cougars believe they can challenge for the Narrows League Bridge Division championship based on their veteran talent. That experience begins on the offensive line where all five starters are seniors. The line is manned by left tackle Willy Llewellyn (6-foot-4, 300 pounds), left guard Evan Phelps (6-3, 240), center Cale Steenerson (6-1, 270), right guard Kyle Anderson (6-4, 260) and right tackle Ryan Forney (6-4, 265). Forney is a three-year starter.

CK offensive line coach Lyle Prouse hasn’t let his unit forget its relevance. After all, the Cougars haven’t been to the state playoffs since a 57-28 loss against Kentridge in 1997 and haven’t won a state playoff game since defeating Shelton, 7-6, in 1973. This may be the senior-laden squad’s best opportunity to get back there.

“As the offensive line goes, so goes the team,” Prouse said. “I’m of the mind that you win games by scoring touchdowns and if the offensive line isn’t clicking, you’re not moving anywhere.”

Following an aggressive summer workout program, Prouse hopes the offense moves a lot further than last season.

“I think we’re a lot stronger than we were last year,” he said. “I think the amount of work we put in the spring and summer was impressive. All the guys bought into it. I think that’s going to really be a key for us.”

And the offensive line isn’t the only aspect that the Cougars have going for them in their quest to challenge probable league favorite North Kitsap High or perennial heavyweight South Kitsap High this season. Quarterback Nick LaFontaine, a three-year starter, returns to guide the offense.

“We have leadership this year, which we lacked last season,” LaFontaine said. “Now the younger guys are working hard and it’s starting to fall into place.”

The schedule isn’t favorable. The Cougars open their season on Sept. 4 against Vancouver’s Evergreen High, a state-playoff team from a year ago that possesses one the state’s top running backs — Taylor Rank, who holds a scholarship offer from the University of Washington. Another non-league home game against O’Dea on Sept. 10 means a match up against linebacker Anthony Felder, who has been offered a scholarship by co-National Champion Louisiana State University along with several other schools. And that’s before the Cougars face three league teams they have struggled against since moving to the Bridge Division — Gig Harbor (Nov. 1), North Kitsap (Oct. 11) and South Kitsap (Oct. 25). CK has a combined 3-12 record against these teams since 1999 and faces all three on the road.

“I’ve heard a lot about North with Jared Prince and Gig Harbor with their defense and quarterback,” LaFontaine said. “But we’ve worked on a lot of things this summer with our defense.”

As for SK, Prouse said the Cougars are familiar with the Wolves after camping with them at Eastern Washington University in Cheney this summer.

“We got a chance to scrimmage South and I thought we matched up well with them,” he said. “But it’s hard to project that to four quarters on Friday night.”

One non-senior the coaches are excited to see on Friday nights is junior Danny Van Datta. The 5-foot-10 running back/cornerback said he already is receiving interest from the University of Oregon, Arizona State University and Washington State University.

“The coaches think we can be a state championship team this year and we believe them,” he said. “We’re all friends and if we can get together as a team, we can win as a team.”

Van Datta said the team starts up front.

“They’re a great group,” he said. “I’ve been with these guys since junior high and they get bigger every time I see them. Whenever they give me a big hole, I congratulate them. My brother was a lineman and I know how important they are.”

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