Sports

2005 Preview: Eagles look to build on last year's legacy

t’s hard to figure exactly what the Klahowya Eagles will be like on the gridiron this season. While the squad’s specific strengths will be a question answered over the next week before the season starts, Klahowya coach Brad Hamblet said one thing is for sure: Don’t take the Eagles for granted.

“I think we’re going to have a pretty good year,” Hamblet said. “We have lots of questions to answer. We’re a very young team with who we have but they’re a lot of hard-working kids and they want to do well.”

With a large turnover due to the departure of 17 seniors from last year’s state-playoff squad, young returners will have to answer questions about experience early on. But again, Hamblet said he’s not worried about his kids stepping up.

“We’re further along then we’ve ever been,’ he said. “These guys are a really coachable young group.”

And with the experience of the school’s first trip to state last season under the belts of the team’s returners, Hamblet said there’s no reason the team can’t recreate that success.

“The kids are really excited. They all want to repeat that experience,” Hamblet said. “You can tell them what it’s like but you can’t show them what it’s like until they’ve been there. That was just a fantastic legacy that the team last year left for teams to come. I hope the kids get that experience again.”

Part of the reason Hamblet is so optimistic about his team is the turnout alone. He said more than 50 kids have come out this season.

“That’s great,” Hamblet said. “At an AA school? I’ll take 50 kids at a school our size any day.”

That said, it won’t be easy to replace the caliber of players the Eagles lost in going 7-4 and making their state debut. Gone is All-State linebacker Jerid Sturman-Camyn. Gone is the rushing tandem of Zac Becker, Gabe Rucker and Brent Collier. Gone is the strong defensive unit that included AJ Cobb, Brandon Bennett, Jeff Young, Dustin Praxedes, Nathan Lax, Dan Gardner, Tony Criswell and several others.

“On defense we lost some pretty good seniors,” Hamblet said.

He was quick to remind, however, of who the Eagles have coming back.

“But we have (defensive back) Cody Kirkpatrick coming back. He’s looking solid,” Hamblet said. “On the line we’ll be a lot more solid than we have in the past. We’ll have Patrick Griffin at defensive tackle. He’s gotten to be a very good football player. He’s going to be hard to take care of.”

Joining Griffin in the trenches will be AJ Tibbetts, a player that turned out as a freshman but is just now making his return to the team.

“He’ll be another inside tackle. He’s strong as an ox,” Hamblet said. “These two guys can hold down the middle against most anybody.”

Defense has been the focus of the Eagles’ preseason activities, focusing on that side of the ball in both summer and preseason camps.

“We said with the coaching staff we’d put the emphasis on defense and we did,” he said. “I’m an offensive coach so I have tended to spend too much time on offense. It’s been great to get us more time on defense.

“We were aggressive last year but we did give up some points.”

Some players are getting used to both sides, like Klahowya’s Wendy’s High School Heisman nominee CJ Moen, who played in the offensive and defensive lines last season. Hamblet said Moen will fill some of Sturman-Camyn’s void as he’s converted to linebacker. Moen will also try his hand at fullback, a situation Hamblet said could work out very well for the team.

“He’s one of our better athletes, a strong athlete,” Hamblet said. “He’s pretty mobile. We’ll also move him to fullback as an experiment. We’ll see how that goes.”

Among offensive returners, the Eagles will rely heavily on the speed and strength of running backs Isaac Solaita and Sam Rucker. Rucker finished fifth in the state at the 2A State Championships last Spring in Cheney in the 100-meter dash and was third in the 200. Hamblet called Solaita the “strongest kid on the team, pound-for-pound.”

“Our backfield is potentially one of the best we’ve had here. Those guys run like the wind,” Hamblet said. “They’re tough kids. They make great cuts.”

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