It’s fair to say that few football coaches had a tougher first season than Kingston’s Billy Russo.
Hired in March 2020, just as schools were closing down and going online due to COVID-19, taking the reins of a program during a pandemic and then subsequently having a shortened season made it pretty difficult for him to get started putting together a team to fit his vision.
Adding to that, he came in ready to give the Buccaneers a new look on offense and defense and there was a whole lot of learning on the fly for the players and coaching staff.
“By game three, we started figuring things out,” Russo said. “And the season was almost over.”
This fall, with 45 players in camp, Russo has had far more time to work on the new offensive and defensive concepts.
“Having a full off-season helps us tremendously,” Russo said. “We didn’t have that last year, and we were so far behind.”
And he’s got a pretty young group with freshmen and sophomores ready to battle it out for varsity time. Like a lot of other teams, turnout is up this year, and Russo credits that to the work being done at the younger levels getting the feeder programs back in place to support the high school team.
The program graduated a number of longtime contributors, including a few three-year starters, but they still have some experienced players back.
Leading the returners is senior running back Sam Reber, a big power back who runs well between the tackles. The Bucs also have a pair of all-league linemen in juniors Fisiipeau Tameilau and Tyler Rose to support that run game.
But with a new spread offense, Kingston figures to throw the ball far more than it has in recent years. Juniors Brooks Arnim and Kerr Hernandez are taking snaps at quarterback. Junior Noah Walter looks like he could be one of the top targets out wide.
The Bucs will get a little extra time to get ready for their league schedule. Because of recent changes made in the Olympic League schedule, Kingston had its Week 1 game at Klahowya moved to Week 2. Their original Week 2 opponent, Renton, already had a Week 1 game lined up, but Russo used his connections at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, where he previously served as a position coach, to pick up a Week 1 game against the 4A school’s JV team.
2021 record: 1-4
Head coach: Billy Russo
Key players: Sam Reber, RB/LB, sr.; Fisiipeau Tameilau, OL/DL, jr.; Tyler Rose OL/DL, jr.; Brooks Arnim, QB/LB, jr.; Kerr Hernandez, QB/WR/DB, jr.; Noah Walter, WR/DB, jr.
Schedule: Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m., at Klahowya; Sept. 17, 6:30 p.m., at Bremerton; Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m., at North Mason; Oct. 1, 6:30 p.m., Bainbridge; Oct. 8, 6:30 p.m., Port Angeles; Sept. 15, 6 p.m., at Olympic; Oct. 22, 6:30 p.m., Sequim; Oct. 28, 7 p.m., at North Kitsap.