POULSBO — There’s plenty new about the Poulsbo Junior High football program this year.
New head coach. New assistant coaches. And most of all, new players.
While the Panthers return several talented players from last year, this year’s team drew a surprising 90 kids, giving first-year head coach Dean Maleski plenty of clay with which to mold the Panthers program.
Maleski pointed out several standout players at a recent practice, but needed a little help on first — and occasionally, last — names.
“Ninety kids,” he said. “I’m still learning names.”
Maleski, who took over the head coaching position after coach Jim Isenhour took another administrative position elsewhere, is not the only new coach. He is joined by Rick Armenta, the offensive coordinator, as well as Tim McFadden, David Denton, and Juan Haley.
Maleski is proud of his staff, and he thinks he has some hard-working players to go with it.
“They should be good,” he said. “I’ve got some talented backs, a very talented defense… I think we’ll have a good season.”
Those running backs will include Jerrell Smith and Bubby Ditmer; other players include quarterback Jeff Ottele, wide receiver/defensive back Evan Donald, center Chris Valdez, defensive tackle Joe Henninger (along with his brother Sam), Josh Berry, and Levi Pixton.
The team recently hit the field for the first time when they participated in a jamboree on Bainbridge Island.
“The team did really good,” said quarterback Ottele, who noted that Smith punched in two touchdowns, and Ryan Anderson added a TD of his own, as did Donald.
Maleski knew it would go well after a pre-jamboree optional practice drew all but three players.
“I haven’t had a problem with guys not showing up,” Maleski said.
So far, Maleski said, the kids have had the right attitude. He thinks that will translate into success on the field.
“I want to win them all,” he said. “But — the old football expression — we’ve got to take them one at a time.”
He added, “Really, I want to improve, and get better each week.”