Sequim’s Taig Wiker ran for a team-high 1,121 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Wiker will be taking over at quarterback for the record-setting Riley Cowan this fall. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Sequim’s Taig Wiker ran for a team-high 1,121 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Wiker will be taking over at quarterback for the record-setting Riley Cowan this fall. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Defending league champion Wolves are now the hunted

SEQUIM — Reigning Olympic League football champion Sequim doesn’t expect anyone to feel sorry for the Wolves after the loss of a talented senior class headlined by four-year starting quarterback and Olympic League 2A MVP Riley Cowan, who is now playing at Oregon’s George Fox University.

In fact, they know everyone is gunning for them. Especially the team Sequim dethroned from its perch atop the league standings — North Kitsap.

And the Wolves’ attitude is, “bring ‘em on.”

“I don’t think we’ll be as hurt at quarterback as people think,” said head coach Erik Wiker.

Interestingly, last season the Wolves had to replace an all-everything superstar in receiver/returner Gavin Velarde. They responded by wresting the league championship from powerhouse North Kitsap, winning a district playoff game and advancing to the first round of the 2A state tournament.

Wiker pointed out that not a lot of new kids have come into the program. But the squad has a ton of sophomores who have now moved up to juniors and are more than ready to step in to the positions left by departed seniors.

“We didn’t really add a lot. It’s almost the same kids we had last year,” he said.

Wiker expects that the Wolves will continue to have a good passing game, just a different passing game from Cowan’s senior year.

Last year, Sequim stunned perennial power North Kitsap by beating them and going on to win the Olympic League 2A Division. That win was so monumental that the Seattle Times has the Wolves No. 10 in its preseason rankings and also circled the date (Sept. 20) that Sequim travels to Poulsbo as a “game to watch.”

Targets on their backs

That’s just one game all season that the Wolves will have a bull’s-eye on their backs. Wiker told his team to expect it every game because everyone will want to bring the champions down.

“I told them we’re going to get every team’s best game,” Wiker said. “Don’t tell me North Kitsap during the offseason wasn’t talking about ‘let’s get them’.”

Wiker isn’t shy about saying that a league championship is not only a goal this year, but next year, as well. The Wolves are very thin in the senior class, but that’s a good thing, because they’re loaded with a bunch of talented sophomores and juniors who are going to be around another two or three years.

Precedent set

Wiker said winning a league title does help the team prepare for a success, because all those freshmen and sophomores on the team saw the kind of preparation that it took to win the Olympic 2A championship last year, so they know what is expected if they wish to attain similar results.

“We have new leaders. The guys who gave us leadership, none of those guys are here anymore,” Wiker said.

The biggest change will be replacing Cowan. Wiker and his staff are shifting the offense to accommodate a new quarterback, but that certainly doesn’t mean the Wolves are abandoning their signature passing game.

Taig Wiker was a talented all-league running back for the Wolves last year. This year, he’s taking his natural talent under center to take over for quarterback.

Coach Wiker is not expecting any dropoff in the Wolves’ ability to move the ball and score.

“He played quarterback his whole life before high school,” Wiker pointed out.

Cowan’s ability to call plays at the line of scrimmage after checking out the defensive alignment was an advantage for Sequim.

“We wouldn’t know what the playcall was [going to be],” on the sidelines, Wiker said.

There won’t be that kind of freelancing on the field this year, but that doesn’t mean the Wolves won’t have a high-octane attack again.

That means likely taking some plays and formations out of the playbook, but also adding some new plays to take advantage of Taig’s running skills.

The Wolves also lost all-league first-teamer Kyler Rollness at wide receiver. But Wiker thinks that from top to bottom, the Wolves’ receiving corps is actually stronger than last year.

“As a whole we might be better [at receiver]. They’re running the right routes and Taig is hitting them,” Wiker said.

One player he expects to stand out this season in his junior year is receiver/defensive back Michael Young.

“Michael Young is going to make a step to a higher level,” Wiker said.

Wiker said Garrett Hoesel only played in the defensive backfield last year, but has looked good in practise as a wide receiver. Other kids he said are looking good as receivers are Hayden Eaton, all 6-foot-4 of him, and Truman Nestor, again both sophomores last year looking to make noise as juniors.

The Wolves will also have a lot beef on the front offensive line with Caleb Pozernick at 290 pounds and Brandon Barnett at 250-plus pounds. You guessed it — last year, they were sophomores.

Defensively, the Wolves lose Johnnie Young, a first-team all-league linebacker (he was first team on the offensive line, too). But Wiker likes his defense, which returns seven starters who were sophomores last season.

“I think we’ll have one of the best defenses in the league,” he said.

Kids expected to make a lot of noise on defense include Walker Ward as an outside linebacker and Isaiah Cowan, another linebacker.

He expects junior Lane Mote to be another kid to take a big jump as a middle linebacker.

“I think he’s going to be the best linebacker in the league,” Wiker said.

Wiker only has one area where he’s somewhat concerned about the defense.

“We’re kind of looking for defensive ends,” he said.

Wiker expects North Kitsap to likely be the biggest barrier to another league championship. He said Bremerton looks good and Olympic is athletic and well-coached. North Mason is always a rugged team.

The Wolves’ season begins Friday at home against Washington, a rematch of last year’s season opener won 44-21 by Sequim. The Patriots advanced to the first round of state last season.

Sequim visits Forks on Sept. 13, then travels for the huge game at North Kitsap on Sept. 20. They play at Port Angeles for the Rainshadow Rivalry on Oct. 18.

Sequim also hosts a very strong Class 1A team in Hoquiam on Oct. 25. The Grizzlies actually beat the Wolves last year, so Sequim will be looking for some revenge.

Sequim Wolves

Head coach, Erik Wiker, 16th season, 103-52.

Last year: 9-2, Olympic League champions, won district playoff and advanced to Class 2A State Tournament first round.

Key contributors: QB/LB Taig Wiker, jr.; WR/DB Michael Young, jr.; LB/RB Lane Mote, jr,; WR/DB Hayden Eaton, jr.; WR/DB Garret Hoesel, jr.; OL/DL Brandon Barnett, jr.

Question mark: Olympic League 2A MVP Riley Cowan graduated and it will be a huge task to replace him. Also, now the Wolves must prepare for having the target on their backs as defending league champions.

Game to watch: You already knew this one. Sept. 20 at North Kitsap. Even the Seattle Times talked about this game.

Michael Young catches the ball against Olympic during the 2018 season. Young is expected to be a big part of this year’s offense. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Michael Young catches the ball against Olympic during the 2018 season. Young is expected to be a big part of this year’s offense. (Michael Dashiell/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

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