SNOHOMISH — Kai Smalley is happy to be back in the Pacific Northwest.
As football teams around the state started practicing Wednesday, the Salem, Ore.-native officially began his first season as coach of the Snohomish Panthers.
And the new coach liked what he saw.
“I thought we had a great first practice,” Smalley said. “Our kids’ enthusiasm level was where I couldn’t imagine it would have been at. Which is the biggest thing we could ask for. Their mentality is all in the right place and that’s going to only help with picking up the offense and the defense.”
Smalley, who spent the past five years coaching in Utah, returned to the Northwest to coach Snohomish. He is the first Panther coach not named Mark Perry or Dick Armstrong in the past 50 years.
“The community’s been very inviting. It’s good to be back in the Northwest,” Smalley said. “It was a little different being out in Utah for five years.”
Perry, who coached the Panthers for the past 18 years, resigned as the head coach in December. However, he is now the athletic director at Snohomish High School and has been a valuable source of information and assistance for Smalley.
“Coach Perry’s been more than anything you could ask for as an AD,” Smalley said.
While Perry is no longer on the sidelines, several coaches from last season have returned for the Panthers, such as Jeff Armstrong, who will be the junior varsity head coach after coaching the freshman team last year and Brian Danielson who is moving from freshman linebacker coach to the same position with the varsity team.
Joey Hammer also is somewhat of an in-house addition, having coached eighth graders at the Panthers’ middle school program in the past. He is now the varsity defensive backs coach.
“Just some movement like that,” Smalley said. “Different faces in different places but a lot of the same guys are around.”
One of the adjustments Smalley has faced is the later football schedule in Washington. In Utah, the games may be starting as early as this week so that the season can end before the state is hit with snow, said Smalley, who most recently coached at Park City High School.
With the later schedule here, Smalley has a bit more time to prepare for the upcoming season.
The first-year coach needs all the time he can get as he installs the spread offense at Snohomish. One of the latest trends in high school — and college — football, the offense is designed to spread the defense and get the ball to athletes who can then try to make a play downfield.
“Right now I’m just excited that we’re executing the way we are this early on,” Smalley said. “? If they keep rolling like that throughout the season they’re going to make things happen.”
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, in his first season, Cascade coach Joe Cronin was trying to get his team to buy into what he was teaching after the team had gone 0-20 the previous two seasons.
This year, the Bruins are thinking league championship.
Cascade finished the 2012 season 5-5 and only expect to improve on that this season.
“The biggest thing (the team) talked about (before the season) was chemistry,” Cronin said. “Making sure that there are no cliques and we all get along and support each other and we constructively criticize each other. With that being said, if that happens there is no reason we can’t compete for a league championship.”
Cronin’s first practice with the Bruins a year ago was a learning experience for both player and coach. Cronin was getting to know what he was working with and the players were learning the philosophies of a new head coach.
The first practice of Cronin’s second year was light years different. The team actually wrapped up about 15 minutes early because they committed so few mistakes when going through the plays.
“This year’s first practice was a lot better than last year’s first practice,” senior fullback and linebacker Nate Elliot said.
“It feels like just getting back into things this year, instead of just starting over,” senior wide receiver and defensive back KJ Brady added.
Defense should be a strength for the Bruins, who return 10 of their 11 starters on that side of the ball. The offense is more of an unknown, but Cronin said it has two really good receivers, a solid running game and a good offensive line.
At this time last year the Bruins were optimistic their new coach would lead them to their first victory in over two seasons. Wednesday, that optimism had turned to confidence he could lead them to a league championship.
— Aaron Lommers, Herald Writer
The Knights’ motto this year is “We Are Brotherhood.”
The quarterback competition over the summer exemplifies that perfectly. Junior Tyler Becker and Nick Taglialavore vied for the job vacated by Brett Ludeman. The two signal-callers pushed each other, cheered each other on and helped one another throughout the process.
“I’d say it wasn’t even really a battle,” Taglialavore said. “Coach tells us all the time take your eyes off yourself and put them on the team. It came down to I never wanted him not to succeed. We’re buddies, so there’s no need for us to be enemies.”
Becker won the job, meaning Taglialavore will play wide receiver. Guess who is one of Becker’s favorite targets?
“As far as a quarterback-receiver bond we connect the most on the team,” Becker said.
With a number of all-Wesco returners, quarterback was the biggest question going into the season. With that settled Kamiak has high hopes.
All-Area running back Austin Hall, who led all Wesco 4A rushers with 1,673 yards last season, returns bigger, quicker and healthy (Hall suffered an ankle injury prior to last season). He’ll be running behind a line that returns four linemen from last season.
“I’m excited and have high hopes for the season,” Hall said.
— Aaron Swaney, Herald Writer
The Tomahawks return most of the key pieces from last year’s deep playoff run, and those pieces now have playoff experience and another year in the weight room under their belts.
Marysville Pilchuck took care of business in the 3A North last season, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be successful in defending their league title.
One place with holes to fill is the offensive line. Key departures include all-league first-teamers Iggy Gabov and Ishmael Perez as well as Jory Cooper, who was second-team all-league. Even tight end Conner Martinis is gone.
“We’ve definitely got some things to figure out personnel-wise,” Marysville Pilchuck head coach Brandon Carson said. “We’ll have to replace everybody. You have to count our tight end, too.There’s four or five guys we have to replace up front. It seems like it’s like that each year.”
What will help the Tomahawks are all those returning all-Wesco players, including quarterback Jake Luton, running back Austin Joyner and kicker Ryan Spiva. They will try to help MP improve on last year’s run, which saw the Tomahawks get all the way to the 3A state quarterfinals.
“We’re trying to get better at what we do,” Carson said. “We have a handful of our skill guys returning. You go through different phases. ?
“Last year, it’s over with. It’s a whole new season and lots of different things can occur. We’re just doing our best to get better at what we do. We were happy, we had a nice little playoff run last year and hopefully we can build upon that.”
— David Krueger, Herald Writer
The Mavericks kicked off camp for the first time in 13 seasons without Mark Stewart, who took the head coaching job at Garfield High School after the 2012 season.
Taking the reins for the Mavs is Mike Don, who coached at Lynnwood High School for two seasons and most recently at Brewster High School.
Under Don, the offense will have a different look. The Mavericks will run more spread offense and throw the ball much more than in the past.
“We are going to be more multiple than we are spread,” Don said. “We are going to do a lot of things formationally and move guys around. It’s just going to be a little bit different of a philosophy as far being more balanced than running the ball 90 percent of the time.”
The defense should continue to be strength for a team that became a perennial state contender under Stewart.
Competing for league championships and advancing to state is a habit the Mavericks have developed and one that Don hopes doesn’t change under his watch.
“My expectations are for them to stay accountable to what they have been doing in the past,” Don said. “(Meadowdale has) a good program and we are just looking to keep building on what they’ve been doing for the past 10 years.”
Meadowdale returns just four players who were named to the 3A All-Wesco South team a season ago, but that doesn’t change the high expectations that the players put on themselves every season. Senior offensive and defensive lineman JoJo Alkehedairy is one of those returning all-conference players and would like to end his Meadowdale career on a high note.
“I think we should be right up there with the Bellevue and the Eastside Catholics of the state,” Alkehedairy said. “I think we can still be right there and I expect the most out of this team. If we don’t get to Tacoma, I don’t think it’s a good season.”
— Aaron Lommers, Herald Writer