ATM movin’ on up

  • David Pan<br>Enterprise sports editor
  • Friday, February 29, 2008 10:50am

EVERETT — It would be a bit of a stretch to say that the Archbishop Thomas Murphy football team is taking on the role of underdog in the new Cascade Conference.

Certainly not after the Wildcats won back-to-back Class 1A state championships.

But the decision to opt up to the new 2A league, which also includes a pair of 3A schools, brings with it a load of uncertainties.

With an enrollment of about 220, Archbishop Murphy is the smallest school in the seven-team conference.

The two 3A schools Cedarcrest and South Whidbey likely will have enrollment that numbers in the 600s. The other five schools have anywhere from roughly 300 to 500 students. King’s, which is the other school at the low end of the numbers, also is opting up to 2A.

“This was of our own choosing,” Archbishop Murphy coach Terry Ennis said. “It’s a risk we took coming in. Literally, we don’t know how that’s all going to shake out until the season is over.”

Archbishop Murphy actually is well with the numbers for 1A schools, which are from 151-300. The numbers for 2A schools are 301-600.

Senior quarterback/defensive back Kyle Wilkins views the upcoming season as a welcome challenge.

“Everyone is actually pretty excited about the move up and seeing what the competition is like,” Wilkins said. “I don’t think it will change the way that we play. But definitely, the competition is going to get harder because there are more kids to choose from for those other schools. We can still play 1A with the kids that we have.”

The Wildcats have faced King’s in non-league games, but the rest of the league is pretty much a mystery to Ennis.

The other teams are in a similar situation with regard to their knowledge of Archbishop Murphy.

“We just don’t know much about anybody,” Ennis said. “We’ll obviously try to scout and watch film and prepare more on a weekly basis, but we don’t have any kind of feel on who does what and they have the same problem so to speak.”

Junior running back/defensive back Stan Smith is confident the Wildcats will be able to measure up against the larger schools.

Last year’s state championship team was as good as any team in the state, Smith said.

“I though we could have competed with everybody,” he added. “I just want this team to be able to be able to prove themselves.”

Some new faces will figure prominently the starting lineup, especially with the departure of all-league running back/defensive back Jevon Butler, who is now at the University of Idaho.

Replacing Butler is going to be a group effort.

“That’s a big spot to fill, which is just not going to come from the person playing his position,” Wilkins said. “It’s going to come from the rest of the team taking on the load that he carried because he kind of carried the team. So we’re going to have to have more than one person step up in numerous positions.”

Butler is almost an irreplaceable player, said Ennis, who noted that it isn’t often that a coach can rely on a player to be a consistent and productive performer for three years as Butler was.

“We just need to be better overall and get the same production, get the same team production in a different way,” Ennis said. “That’s going to be the key. There are kids that you just don’t replace.”

Much of the leadership will come from Wilkins and Smith, two of the team’s most experienced players.

But the Wildcat offense isn’t just about two individual players.

Ennis stressed that he’s not looking for one player to dominate.

“The key to our backfield is that there are four guys that do well, not two,” he said. “We need everybody involved.”

Last year’s opponents tended to set their sights on Butler, which enabled Smith to run free. In the same vein, Smith figures to draw a lot of attention from the defense, which should give Wilkins and running backs Craig Duncan and Chris Hoerauf some opportunities for big gains.

Though some might wonder if there is any complacency creeping into Archbishop Murphy given its success the last two years, Ennis and his players see absolutely no evidence of it.

The new league certainly is helping to keep everyone focused.

“I didn’t sense that (complacency) last year as we started and I don’t sense it this year because of the greater challenge we have moving up,” Ennis said. “If there was complacency I’d probably pull the thumb and say it would have to start with me and the coaching staff … if they (players) were to sense we though we were pretty good, they’d pick up on that.

“With what we have ahead of us, I don’t see any complacency.”

Wilkins added that the rest of the teams in the Cascade Conference likely haven’t paid much attention to the Wildcats and their successes.

“They don’t really care if we’re 1A state champs or world champs,” Wilkins said. “They don’t really care.”

Ennis and his staff have been shifting players around and evaluating talent during the first two weeks of practice.

“What we’ve stressed is competition right now within the team for positions and that’s working well,” he said. “I think we’ve had good practices and made steady progress.”

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