Central Kitsap senior Elijah McGee takes snaps at quarterback during a pre-season indoor practice. McGee was one of the team’s top running backs last year. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

Central Kitsap senior Elijah McGee takes snaps at quarterback during a pre-season indoor practice. McGee was one of the team’s top running backs last year. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

A young Central Kitsap football team looks to get back to the postseason

Elijah McGee, one of the team’s best athletes, will move to quarterback this season

SILVERDALE — Central Kitsap’s strategy this year is somewhat simple: Get the ball into the hands of its best player as often as possible.

Elijah McGee played running back for the Cougars last year and has consistently been one of the team’s best all-around athletes. This fall, he’s been taking snaps as Central Kitsap’s No. 1 quarterback.

“We were figuring out how we can get him to get his hands on the ball and it was like, ‘Oh, we’ll just have him catch every snap,’” explained head coach Mark Keel.

McGee should be fun to watch in this new role. He’s not the biggest kid, listed at 5-10, 160 pounds, but he’s extraordinarily quick and has an explosive first step.

His athleticism should help jump-start a team that finished 5-5 in 2017 and ended the season with a disappointing loss to Yelm. Central Kitsap watched as the Tornadoes erased an early 14-0 Cougars lead. The loss prevented Central Kitsap from hosting a district playoff game, but the experience proved valuable for what was still a very young team.

“We had four seniors sit out [that game],” Keel said. “For us, that was a good deal because we got to get a look at a lot of young guys. They got an opportunity to play on Friday night. That part was good; we’ll build on that.”

And in order to get there, Central Kitsap had stunned Peninsula the week prior, winning 13-0 over a Seahawks team that went on to the 3A state quarterfinals and could have advanced further were it not for an untimely injury to their quarterback.

“I think we just go off the whole year, the whole season, in terms of things we have to get better at,” Keel said.

The Cougars are young this year — the team has just nine seniors — and will have to find replacements for a couple of key losses.

Defensive back Darickus Welborne, the hero of last year’s Peninsula game, is now at Central Washington. Welborne was the heart of the defense, but if Avery Schuette, Mekai Seau and Ty Callao-Zeman on the defensive line, along with Nigal Hardee at defensive back, play well, the unit should be in good shape.

On the offensive side of the ball, Ja’Quirious Conley, the team’s breakout receiver from a year ago, moved during the offseason as his family is in the military. Conley led the team with 484 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He scored twice in week one for his new high school in North Carolina.

Consequently, the offense will look a little different. McGee will be handing the ball off to Alex Refilong, who also played receiver last year. Like last year, the receiving corps is skilled, but young, with junior Zach Webb and sophomore Jason Almonte expected to lead the way.

“We’ve got some good athletes,” Keel said. “They’ve been together a long time, the majority of them. And we’ll do our best to coach them up.”

Central Kitsap kicks off its season with the Battle of Bucklin Hill, its annual rivalry game against Olympic High School, on Aug. 31 at Silverdale Stadium. The Cougars have a bit of an easier schedule this year with its three toughest games against Timberline, Gig Harbor and Peninsula spread out over the course of their season.

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com.

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