By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
BOTHELL — The seniors-to-be on Lynnwood High School’s varsity football team are a resilient bunch.
The Royals will open the 2014 season under the guidance of their third head coach in four years, but that isn’t stopping Andrew Katzenberger and his senior teammates from setting lofty expectations.
“We think we’re going to make the playoffs,” said Katzenberger, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound running/linebacker. “We’re going to go above .500 and make the playoffs.”
That optimism has a lot to do with the fact that, for the first time in a long time, Katzenberger and the rest of the Royals can focus on what matters to them most — winning football games.
That was the focus at this time last year, when the Royals were getting ready to start the 2013 season under second-year head coach Adam Fermstad.
But just weeks into the season, Fermstad was gone.
Prior to the Royals’ season opener, Fermstad was put on administrative leave while the school conducted an investigation of an undisclosed incident involving the coach. Assistant coaches Keauntea Bankhead and Danny Hawkins assumed co-interim head coaching duties and remained in those positions for the remainder of the season after Fermstad was released from his contract on Sept. 18.
In the offseason, the school removed the “interim” from Bankhead’s title when they hired him as head coach.
“For (the players) to just go through that, year after year, they don’t really trust,” Bankhead said of the coaching turnover at Lynnwood. “With this being my third year here and finally being the head coach, I guess I’ve finally earned their trust.”
So far, so good, according to Katzenberger.
“This year, it’s smoother and it just feels better to have a consistency with the program instead of just every year a new coach,” Katzenberger said. “That was kind of tough for us because we would learn one thing and then we would switch schemes and switch plays.”
Everyone on the team is working hard to turn around Lynnwood’s long-standing reputation as a football pushover and finally escape a losing tradition that has plagued the team for longer than the current players have been alive. In the past three years alone, the Royals won just five games while losing 24. Between their only victory in 2013, which came in the last week of the season, and their sole victory in 2012, which came in the season’s first week, the Royals lost 17 consecutive games.
If the 2014 Royals are going to transcend that past, Katzenberger will be a big part of the reason why. Last season, he was named a second-team All-Wesco running back, but was left off the all-league team at linebacker.
“I had a pretty good year, but I felt like I kind of got cheated,” he said. “I didn’t get anything for linebacker, no first team or anything.”
Not being recognized for his play on defense obviously still bothers Katzenberger, but his head coach said that might be a good thing.
“This year coming in, I think he’s trying to make a statement,” Bankhead said. “I think he needed that. Coming in, he has a statement to make and I think he will make that statement.”
Katzenberger has made a commitment to getting better this summer. He has attended several football camps in an effort to improve his skills. In the final 10 days of June, Katzenberger attended camps hosted by the University of Washington, Washington State University, the University of Idaho, Eastern Washington University and Montana State University.
Bankhead said he already has seen the impact those camps have made.
“He’s matured a lot,” Bankhead said. “Him getting quality coaching going to all these camps this year, I’ve seen a whole different guy from when I first came in here. He’s running the ball. He actually looks like a football player. He’s running the ball right. He knows which hand the ball is supposed to be in. He’s running tough. His thought is just to score every time.”
It isn’t just Katzenberger’s on-field performance Bankhead wants to see polished for the upcoming season.
“I’m working on him being more vocal,” Bankhead said. “He does great leading by example. I don’t think he knows how much power he has and what influence he really has over this team, but once he figures it out, I think he’ll be able to handle a lot more.”
Katzenberger seems excited about the challenge.
“As a senior, I feel like I’ve got to lead my team,” he said. “(The other seniors and I are) the oldest and we’ve been here the longest, so we know what it takes. We’ve been through a lot and we just want to win, so we’ve just got to push our teammates to win and do their best.”
One of the reasons the Royals have struggled in the past is their lack of numbers. They started the 2013 season with around 50 players and finished the season with less than 30, significantly fewer than almost all of their competitors.
Bankhead said 72 kids have participated in summer workouts and practices this year and he’s been impressed with the effort level.
“These guys come out here, and they don’t practice like they’re a losing team,” Bankhead said. “When I see these guys out here, they’re practicing and they’re working hard.
“You wouldn’t be able to tell that we only won two games last year.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.