PORT ANGELES — Those fleeting days of summer vacation have given way to two-a-days as prep football practices opened under hazy, smoke-filled skies across the North Olympic Peninsula on Wednesday.
This summer seems especially limited in length with the mid-August start — and the first football games will even be played on the final Friday of this month.
Summer vacation also wraps for other prep athletes when girls soccer, volleyball, swimming, cross country and boys tennis get practice sessions underway Monday.
With football opening first, here are five things to watch during the upcoming gridiron prep season.
Four new head coaches
Head coaching changes were made at four of the nine North Olympic Peninsula high schools during the offseason.
That level of turnover will understandably lead to some growing pains in the early going as players and coaches try to get on the same page of the playbook.
But maybe not as much as one would expect.
Three of the new head coaches were on their respective school’s coaching staff last season.
Port Angeles’ new head coach Troy Mann was on the Roughriders’ coaching staff last fall as Port Angeles snapped a 17-game losing streak and posted a 3-6 overall mark in Bret Curtis’ third and final season in charge (4-23 overall).
Neah Bay head coach TJ Greene has been a mainstay as defensive coordinator alongside Tony McCaulley during the Red Devils run to four Class 1B state football championships and an 105-20 record over the last 10 seasons.
Greene also served as head coach at Clallam Bay for two seasons.
Chimacum head coach Chris Storm has been an assistant for the Cowboys in recent seasons and also has a connection to many team members through stints as head coach for Chimacum Youth Football teams recent seasons.
Storm replaces Mike Dowling who went 8-33 in four seasons, including a 4-6 record in 2017.
Patrick Gaffney, Port Townsend’s new coach, wasn’t on the Redhawks sidelines last season, but he was going to be an assistant for the team this fall before the departure of former coach Alex Heilig in late May for a teaching position in South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Heilig went 10-11 in two seasons with the Redhawks, including a 3-7 mark with a tiny roster last season that saw Port Townsend forced to forfeit its season opener with Sequim.
Northwest League changes
The first season in a two-year experiment to achieve more competitive balance on the field will begin in the 8-man Northwest Football League this fall.
A merger has been agreed to between Class 1B eight-man football teams in Northwest District 1, West Central District 3 and Southwest District 4.
The merger will play out like this: the North Division will consist of Lummi, Neah Bay, Naselle and Darrington, a school that recently had its appeal to drop from 2B to 1B denied by the WIAA. Darrington would not be eligible for postseason play.
Crescent will head up the West Division, along with Tulalip Heritage, Mary M. Knight, Taholah, Oakville, Washington School for the Deaf and Wishkah Valley and Lake Quinault, provided those last two schools can field football teams.
North Division teams will play each divisional opponent on a home-and-away basis, while West Division teams will face divisional foes once a year.
Neah Bay and Crescent, traditional North Olympic opponents, will not face each other during the regular season.
North Division teams also will receive three of the top four seeds (1, 2 and 4) into the 12- team Quad-District Playoffs.
West Division teams will be seeded No. 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 and District 2, which includes Quilcene, will receive seeds 3, 6, 9 and 12.
Clallam Bay, which has played six-man games the last two years due to low enrollment numbers, was not included in the merger due to the uncertainty surrounding turnout.
Who gets the football?
Forks and Sequim must figure out how to replace two of the best athletes to grace North Olympic Peninsula football fields in recent seasons.
Cole Baysinger, who earned the Peninsula Daily News’ All-Peninsula Football MVP award last season after totaling 1,700 rushing yards and 21 rushing TDs in nine games. He ended up with more than 2,100 all-purpose yards and 24 total touchdowns for the Spartans.
Gavin Velarde wrapped a stellar career with Sequim in November. The 2016 All-Peninsula Football MVP totaled 135 catches for 2,331 yards and 125 carries for 778 yards and 55 touchdowns — 28 receiving, 14 rushing, seven kickoff returns and five interception returns.
Forks returns an experienced, veteran core of linemen that will be able to open running lanes. The question is what combination of running backs will tote the rock for the Spartans’ grind-it-out rushing attack.
Sequim has a four-year starter at quarterback in Riley Cowan and some experience and size returning along the offensive line. But the Wolves will need to find some targets for Cowan and open some holes in the run game to keep opposing defenses’ honest.
Port Townsend and Forks will sport new Nike uniforms this season.
Forks had a great set before, navy pants with a yellow side stripe and navy blue home jerseys with Forks spelled out on the chest.
The new set is similar, minus the Forks embroidery. White pants also may be part of the team’s uniforms this fall.
Port Townsend continues to embrace black as the primary color for its home duds, with “Redhawks” and the jersey number emblazoned in red.
Away jerseys are white with the same red “Redhawks” script and numbers.
Jefferson County accepted a state Recreation and Conservation Office Youth Athletic Facilities grant to replace the 48-year old lights at Memorial Field, home to Port Townsend and Chimacum football.
The grant will provide $112,500, or 44 percent, of the project cost. The county and community will provide $137,500, or 55 percent, in matching funds.
Memorial Field is the only lighted athletic field in Jefferson County.
It’s been a chore to make out game action in the field’s darkened end zones in recent seasons for spectators, let alone football players.
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or [email protected]