CK excited for Qwest Field opening game

The Central Kitsap Cougars will need a big game out of senior running back Howard McDonald if they want to hang with Punahou at the Emerald City Kickoff Classic. - Jesse Beals/file photo 2007
The Central Kitsap Cougars will need a big game out of senior running back Howard McDonald if they want to hang with Punahou at the Emerald City Kickoff Classic.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/file photo 2007

Cougars invited to open season at Emerald City Kickoff Classic.

Mark Keel and the Central Kitsap Cougars are hoping Qwest Field will be a nice place for a luau.

The Cougars, after accepting an invite to play in the Emerald City Kickoff Classic, will battle Hawaiian powerhouse Punahou at the home of the Seattle Seahawks a week from today.

“That’s gonna be a good experience for everybody,” Keel said.

Punahou, located on Oahu, achieved national prominence by winning 16 Hawaiian state titles — last year. Since 1958, Sports Illustrated (SI) reports the team has won 368 state championships across sports. That prompted SI to name the school the nation’s No. 1 high school athletic program.

All that makes for a challenge the Cougars won’t soon forget.

“They have a couple very good athletes,” Keel said, referring to players like Manti Te’o, one of the top linebacker recruits in the country. “The first thing we’re gonna have to do is be able to match them physically. And we can’t make mistakes. That’s kind of our goal.”

CK is coming off its best season in 10 years, advancing to the first round of state behind a Narrows League-best 9-2 record.

And while winning last year was nice, Keel doesn’t want anyone coming in big-headed.

“We just keep reminding them that last year was last year,” he said. “What that does when you have a winning season like that is make people want to come after you even more. We can’t rest on that. We need to be even tougher.”

A lesson the team’s been focusing on for its upcoming battle with one of the nation’s best teams.

“We understand that we have to prepare that way,” Keel said. “Our approach — even this summer — was to get ready for that.”

CK may have graduated just 10 players from last year’s team, including its best player in tight end/safety Caleb Brown, but many of those players were key, including linemen Will Morris, Greg Gole and Cecil Spence. Kicker Jeff Eagleson is gone, as are Brandon Joiner and Allen Hewey.

“We’re gonna try to use Howard McDonald to our advantage,” Keel said. “We’re losing a guy like Caleb. That’s a quick six every time he gets his hands on the ball.”

Brown recorded 25 receptions for 689 yards and eight scores last year along with four picks and two punt return touchdowns.

But back is quarterback Jason Simonis, who continues to fill out his 6-foot-4-inch frame. Simonis completed 73-of-134 passes for 1,296 yards and 12 scores to just four picks last season. McDonald returns to lead the ground game, fresh off his 242-carry, 1,619-yard, 17-touchdown season.

Also back are key returners like running back H’Arion Gaulden and Marcus D’Angelo. Runners and linebackers Cole Adams and Richie Meier return, as do linemen like Mike Crowley, Spencer Williams, Connor Chesser and Vern Hemphill. Wideouts Glen Hewey and Christian Wesley also will be key, as will Cameron Anthony.

“(Jason) along with Christian Wesley and Cameron Anthony catching the ball give us a whole new dimension,” Keel said. “We have some guys who put in a lot of time this summer. We really believe in them.”

That includes CK hoopster Brandon Durham. The 6-foot-7-inch Durham will play tight end and defensive end for CK.

“He’s been playing well, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Keel said of the senior Durham, who hasn’t played football since junior high. “He’s got the main things down. He’s very aggressive and athletic. He likes to play, likes to compete.”

Wesley McCoy is another who will see time at the tight end spot.

“The motivation is I really want to see how these guys compete,” Keel said of his team. “These guys have worked hard. They understand.”

Aside from personnel changes, the Narrows League gets a small facelift after North Kitsap dropped to the 3A classification, joining the Olympic League. Shelton jumps into its place.

“I’m sure it’s gonna be competitive,” Keel said of the Narrows. “We throw Shelton back in there. But we’ll have a good idea of where we’re at right off the bat.”

That’s because after Punahou, CK hosts South Kitsap and Gig Harbor before traveling to Lincoln, Bellarmine and then Shelton.

But perhaps the biggest change is the game that won’t be played this year. In order to jump on the opportunity to play at Qwest Field, CK and Olympic will not go head-to-head this season. It marks the first time since 1973 that there will be no football Battle of Bucklin Hill.

There likely won’t be a Bucklin Hill game next year either, as the Cougars agreed to a two-year deal to participate in the Emerald City Kickoff Classic. Next year CK will battle Puyallup.

“We had to make a decsion on whether we wanted to play at Qwest Field or do that,” Keel said. “It’s an opportunity we can’t pass up, so we took it.”

The Cougars battle Punahou next Saturday at 8 p.m. in the final game of the Kickoff. Tickets are available at the CKHS athletic office.

It’s a game the Cougars hope to build momentum going into a tough league stretch.

“We’re trying to coach our guys to just understand they have to be more focused mentally,” Keel said. “We just can’t have mental lapses. We feel like if we get all these guys doing that, victories will happen.”

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