SPORTS: Area prep football practice heats up

The long grind of the high school football season began this week as teams around the state held their first practices of the fall Wednesday.

At Port Angeles, the feeling is a whole lot different from a year ago when the Roughriders were simply thinking about ending a 12-game losing streak.

Instead, after submitting the school’s most successful season in two decades — a 9-2 campaign that ended an 18-year state playoff drought — the goals are a whole lot bigger.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of last year’s team,” said second-year coach Tom Wahl, orchestrator of Port Angeles’ turnaround from an 0-10 season in 2009.

“Our guys, everybody, staff and guys included, have a higher sense of confidence. We would have never been talking about playoffs and things like that last year. We were just trying to get a win.

“[Now] coaches and players are confident and act like a team that feels a lot more confident, and expectations are higher.

“When we’re asking [the players] to do some more up tempo, tougher stuff they seem to be responding.”

Of course, there are several North Olympic Peninsula squads that find themselves in the exact opposite positions as the season begins.

Port Townsend and Forks, for example, are both coming off winless seasons, while Clallam Bay is a year removed from a 1-7 showing in Class 1B.

Whether any of those teams can accomplish the sort of dramatic reversal of fortunes will be discovered during the next few months.

With everyone 0-0 right now, it’s at the very least a possibility.

The following is a breakdown of all nine area teams as camps kick off this week:

2A Port Angeles

■ League: Olympic

■ Coach: Tom Wahl (second year, 9-2 overall)

■ Last year: 6-1 in Olympic League (second), 9-2 overall; 0-1 in 2A state playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 2 vs. Chief Sealth

■ Team story line: The second year of the Tom Wahl era may be just as challenging as his first.

A season removed from leading the Roughriders from a winless 2009 campaign to their first state playoff appearance in 18 years, Wahl looks to reload with a team that lost 18 seniors and 10 All-Olympic League players.

Dual threat quarterback Keenen Walker returns, but he does so with a brand new set of receivers and a retooled offensive line.

2A Sequim

■ League: Olympic

■ Coach: Erik Wiker (eighth year, 62-16 overall)

■ Last year: 7-0 in Olympic League (first), 9-2 overall; 0-1 in 2A state playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 2 vs. Forks

■ Team story line: The Wolves lost an Olympic League MVP (Isaac Yamamoto) and a three-year starting quarterback (Drew Rickerson) from last year’s league championship team.

Nevertheless, Sequim remains the favorite to win the Olympic League and was ranked No. 8 in Class 2A in the Tacoma News Tribune’s preseason rankings.

Six-foot-5 two-way star Frank Catelli, who will start at QB in the Wolves’ spread shotgun attack, has Division I potential.

He’s already received interest from Air Force, Idaho and Eastern Washington.

1A Port Townsend

■ League: 1A Nisqually

■ Coach: Tom Webster (second year, 0-9 overall)

■ Last year: 0-7 in 1A Nisqually League (eighth place), 0-9 overall; missed playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 2 vs. Coupeville

■ Team story line: The Redskins are coming off their first winless season in 14 years after going 0-9 in Year one of the Tom Webster era.

Year two could be just as difficult for the three-sport coach — Webster also leads the basketball and baseball programs ­— given that the Redskins return just a handful of players.

At Thursday’s practice alone, the Redskins had just one upperclassman.

1A Chimacum

■ League: 1A Nisqually

■ Coach: Shawn Meacham (third year, 10-10 overall)

■ Last year: 4-3 in 1A Nisqually League (third), 5-5 overall; eliminated in preliminary 1A state playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 2 vs. Kingston

■ Team story line: The Cowboys look to rebuild after losing 15 seniors from last year’s playoff team.

Coach Shawn Meacham has shown an ability to do just that in his brief tenure, having transformed a program that managed just two wins in the two seasons prior to his arrival into a perennial playoff contender.

With just 23 athletes coming out for the team this fall, however, he will certainly have his work cut out for him.

1A Forks

■ League: SWL-Evergreen Division

■ Coach: Mark Feasal (first year)

■ Last year: 0-7 in Evergreen (eighth), 0-9 overall; missed playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 2 at Sequim

■ Team story line: The Spartans will take the field with their third different head coach in three seasons when they start their schedule in Sequim on Sept. 2.

First-year head coach Mark Feasal — a longtime assistant coach in Montana — will try to turn around a Spartan team that was winless last season.

1B Quilcene

■ League: Northwest Football League

■ Coach: Nic Dahl (first year)

■ Last year: 5-2 in Northwest Football League (third), 6-4 overall; eliminated in preliminary 1B state playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 3 vs. Highland Christian

■ Team story line: The Rangers must reload after reaching the postseason in former head coach Alan Reimann’s third and final year at the helm.

Nic Dahl, formerly Chimacum’s varsity boys basketball coach, will be tasked with taking over the program in its second year in the Northwest Football League.

Without the Rangers’ main source of offense returning, quarterback Brandon Bancroft, Dahl will be looking for some new faces to step up.

1B Crescent

■ League: Northwest Football League

■ Coach: Darrell Yount (first year)

■ Last year: 2-5 in Northwest Football League (sixth), 3-5 overall; missed playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 3 vs. Clallam Bay (nonleague)

■ Team story line: The Loggers have a new coach, and a whole bunch of new athletes.

One season after missing the postseason for the first time in two years, Crescent brings in a bevy of athletes from its NOL championship track and field team.

Many are first-time football players, meaning first-year coach Darrell Yount and his staff have a lot of teaching to do between now and the Loggers’ Sept. 3 opener.

1B Neah Bay

■ League: Northwest Football League

■ Coach: Tony McCaulley (fourth year, 30-8 overall)

■ Last year: 6-1 in Northwest Football League (seconds), 10-3 overall; 1-1 in 1B state playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 2 vs. Lummi

■ Team story line: The Red Devils have reached the 1B state semifinals in back to back seasons.

With much of the core returning from last year’s squad, including two-year all-league running back Titus Pascua, the Red Devils are primed to make another trip to the Tacoma Dome.

They will certainly get a good idea of where they stand when they host defending 1B champion Lummi on opening weekend.

The Blackhawks have eliminated Neah Bay from the state playoffs each of the past two seasons.

1B Clallam Bay

■ League: Northwest Football League

■ Coach: Cal Ritter (second year)

■ Last year: 1-6 in Northwest Football League (seventh), 1-7 overall; missed playoffs

■ First game: Sept. 3 at Crescent (nonleague)

■ Team story line: The once-dominant Bruins program has struggled to compete in recent years.

Since reaching the 1B state playoffs for the 17th time in school history in 2007, Clallam Bay has gone a combined 2-22, largely due to low turnout.

Head coach Cal Ritter, also the boys basketball coach, looks to turn things around in his second year atop the program.

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