EVERETT — Thanks to an offseason hike up Mt. Pilchuck, Cascade High’s football seniors and their interim coach already have been to the top of the mountain.
Now, they’re trying to lead their team back.
The Bruins got their football season underway Wednesday as prep teams across the state were allowed to practice for the first time in preparation of their 2014 campaigns. Cascade’s seniors are the last remnants of a football team that went 0-10 their freshman year, a bit of ignominy that was part of a 23-game losing streak.
The Mt. Pilchuck hike “was the best workout I’ve ever had,” senior running back/defensive back Kejuan Coleman said. “… Our theme this year is, ‘Finish the fight.’ Every single senior on this field — everybody on this field — is out here trying to finish the fight, and finish what we started.”
In a breakout season a year ago, the Bruins finished 9-2 and made it to the 4A state tournament. That came on the heals of a 5-5 season two years ago.
For the Bruins’ seniors to finish what they started, they will have to find success without head coach Joe Cronin, the architect of the Bruins’ turnaround the past two seasons. He stepped down in June to tend to his daughter Kylie, born 80 days premature.
Interim coach Eric Dinwiddie and the rest of the Cascade coaching staff remained and are hoping to continue Cascade’s improvement.
Losing Cronin was “heartbreaking,” senior tight end/linebacker Hamilton Kendrick said, but added, “we’re a team built on adversity.
“We play through the problems. We’ve had to deal with a lot problems. We came back from 0-23. I don’t know a team that had more adversity than we’ve had. We’ve had to deal with a lot and we can stand it.”
Dinwiddie and his assistants, the bulk of whom have coached the Bruins for two seasons and assisted at Lake Stevens together for four years before that, decided to stay together to help the Cascade team finish the fight.
“We decided to take this on,” Dinwiddie said. “Not me as an interim head coach. It’s a group process. You don’t replace a guy like Joe. But us, together, have worked to organize ourselves to fill in the holes we’re missing.
“But we know we’re missing a guy.”
The Bruins’ coaching staff has done everything it can to ensure that as little as possible has changed from last season.
“We bring the same philosophy,” Dinwiddie said. “We’re going to care for kids, outwork teams (and) we’re going to be running similar systems the best we can.”
The players have done their part, spending the offseason in the weight room — some their 2013 season ended in November — and are doing all they can to get better to continue Cascade’s success.
“The transformation has really been crazy,” senior quarterback/linebacker Malik Rackliff said. “As a freshman being 0-10, then 5-5 and then going to the state playoffs last year was incredible. I’m just really excited to see this upcoming year. I want to better that.”
The players say the pride in the football team has skyrocketed at Cascade High School.
“My freshman year I was able to point out my parents in the stands because (the bleachers) were so empty at our games,” senior lineman Kelsi Colon said. “But last year I couldn’t tell anyone apart. The whole stands were full. It was great. Freshman year, the varsity players were embarrassed to wear their jerseys. Now, I wish I could wear mine every day.”
Part of that pride led to the 2.5-mile hike up Mt. Pilchuck, which gave the players a chance to talk and plan out the season ahead.
“It was a great bonding experience,” Kendrick said. “Once you start walking, and you run out of cell service, there’s nothing to do but talk.”
Dinwiddie, a line coach, and his fellow “big guys” also made the trek as the Bruins laid out their goals for the 2014 season.
“They wanted to come out and finish this thing that we started three years ago: to bring Cascade back to prominence,” Dinwiddie said. “To maintain the pride that we have and play football the right way. The way Coach Cronin started and the way we know is right — by working hard and taking care of each other.”
Finishing the fight also means taking care of another piece of unfinished business, players said.
“We want to win a Wesco (4A) title,” Coleman said. “We talked about it last year, too. We made one slip up in the Edmonds-Woodway game that impacted us for the rest of the season.
“But our goals are just to get better every single game and make sure we’re always outworking our opponents.”