Not much was expected from the King’s football team last year. After a winless season the year before and no obvious candidate for the starting quarterback job, the team was expected to struggle.
The young team surprised everyone, however, by advancing to the playoffs, where they lost to Lynden Christian 27-14 in the play-in playoff game.
Now, with another year of experience for players at key positions and momentum from last year’s season, the team is setting its sights much higher.
“For us, it’s been kind of building off of last year,” said King’s coach Jim Shapiro of the focus for the spring practices, which wrapped up June 24. “Two years ago, we were 0-10 and last year, we went .500 with a pretty young group of kids. So we’re just trying to pick up where we left off and build off of some of the successes from last year.”
The team has a solid core of returning players. Junior-to-be Thomas Vincent won the quarterback job last season and now will lead the offensive unit after a full year of varsity experience. His main target this season will be senior-to-be Nick Swanson at wide receiver. On the other side of the ball, senior-to-be Paul Lutgen, an Associated Press All-State linebacker last season, returns to the offensive line as well as being the team’s middle linebacker.
Even with a predominately young squad, the team lost a fair amount of important players. Wide receiver John Burley, who will be playing at Chapman University outside of Los Angeles in the fall, will be missed as a tall target for Vincent. The team also lost several lineman, most notably Joseph Richards. Seiya Kitchens, who played as a slot receiver and an outside linebacker, is another impact player that King’s will have to replace in the upcoming season.
“When you graduate a senior class, you typically graduate some talent and some older kids,” said Shapiro. “We’re trying to fill their shoes with some young guys coming up.”
The spring practices have been going for the last three weeks for all of the local high school football teams. This last week, several of the squads met at Woolsey Stadium to scrimmage. This has given King’s valuable experience against real opponents without the pressure of a real game. It has given younger, more inexperienced players a chance to apply the different patterns and formations that they’ve been learning. And since these scrimmages are being taped, the coaches also have video they can use to address future problems.
As a 1A school playing in the 2A Cascade Conference, King’s has a lot to be optimistic about before next season, despite being a much smaller school than any of its other league opponents.
“We want to better last year’s record,” said Shapiro when talking his goals for next season. “But I think more importantly than wins and losses, (we want to) play a higher, better brand of football.
“Our goals are to play well in the league and hopefully position ourselves for the second season.”
Shapiro is entering his 13th season at King’s.