Senior wide receiver/defensive back Jacob Keppert is one of many key players for the Eagles this season. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

Senior wide receiver/defensive back Jacob Keppert is one of many key players for the Eagles this season. (Mark Krulish/Kitsap News Group)

Klahowya football optimistic heading into season

SILVERDALE — You wouldn’t necessarily know it by their record, but the Eagles were in the thick of a playoff race most of the way last season.

The Eagles went 3-7 overall and 3-4 in the Nisqually League last year. After a tough 12-7 loss to Charles Wright, which ultimately got the last playoff spot, the team rallied with wins over Port Townsend and Coupeville. But two more close losses ended their season.

And many of those games, including the last two games against Bellevue Christian and Chimacum, could have gone either way. Five of the team’s seven losses were decided by a eight points or less.

Having graduated 29 seniors the year before, Klahowya did not have much experience on either side of the ball in 2017. While the defense jelled nicely — the unit gave up only 18.6 points per game in Nisqually games, a number that drops to 11.8 if you remove a 62-0 loss to a Cascade Christian team that went to state — the offense struggled.

“Truthfully, we were probably trying to do too much,” coach Dan Ericson said. “From a coaching standpoint, we just need to keep it simple and try to execute some plays and do them well.”

But with seven starters back on offense, along with nine on defense, there is definite optimism this year.

Sophomore Hunter Wallis had a strong freshman campaign last year, leading the team in both rushing yards (312) and touchdowns (four) on 59 attempts. He’s in line for more carries this year and, Ericson referred to him as the team’s “X factor.” Nick Lewis and Anthony Hernandez should see an uptick in their share of rushing attempts this year.

John Hartford returns at quarterback for his senior season. He threw for 830 yards last year, and he has a pair of talented targets in seniors Drew Dickson and Jacob Keppert. Klahowya also has senior Chase Templeton, who took a few snaps under center as well.

Aaron Phillips and Ben Schnabel return as two-way starters on the offensive and defensive line, along with Cooper Martinson, who shifts to the line after playing some fullback last year.

Linebacker Tanner Weaver, who missed almost all of last season with an injury, should bolster the linebacking corps that also features Wallis, who finished second on the team in total tackles with 104. That included a team-leading 31 solo tackles. The corps also features Lewis, who was fourth with 81 tackles. Dickson and Keppert are the team’s top corners, and Hayden Steele should also be a factor at safety.

Klahowya has about 50 kids out for football this year, a pretty good number for a 1A school, but the team is top-heavy in terms of experience, and good health will be important to its success.

“We’re not super deep yet, so we have to develop our overall depth,” Ericson said. “We have some strength at the top and then some kids newer to football. We don’t have a lot in the middle.”

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

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