POULSBO — These days, North Kitsap doesn’t rebuild so much as it reloads.
And there’s no doubt North Kitsap is the favorite to win the Olympic League for the fifth time in six seasons. Despite losing four starters on the offensive line — Jordan Austin, Ryan Brooks, Connor Ryan and Connor Westby — and the school record holder for rushing yards in a season — Dax Solis — this past offseason, the next generation of players is ready to fill the shoes of the departed seniors.
“It’s a testament to our program that we lose all these great seniors year after year but then the young kids step up,” head coach Jeff Weible said. “When it’s their turn to get under the lights on Friday night, they rise to the occasion.”
The talent and chemistry of the offensive line was a major focal point last season. Only right tackle Robbie Shipp returns, though tight end Aiden Allsop is still around to protect the edge. Another one of last year’s tight ends, senior Kyle Green, will move to a guard position. Weible said there are several players battling for the final three positions.
Andrew Blackmore returns at quarterback, but the Vikings have a transfer from Kennedy Catholic in John Jones. Weible said he will find a way to get Jones on the field this year, whether it’s at running back or quarterback. Jones has previous starting experience, taking the reins of the Kingston offense two years ago.
Whoever takes the snaps under center will have plenty of targets to choose from. Big play receiver Kai Warren is gone, but at 6 feet, 3 inches, senior Blake Wetzsteon should be able to step into that role nicely. Erik Burchill, Elijah Duplissey and Jared Castillo will all fight for targets at wide receiver as well, and Allsop is an adept pass-catcher from the tight end position.
In the backfield, it’s likely a committee of players will step in to replace Solis’ 1,944 yards and 35 touchdowns. North Kitsap has Isaiah Kahana, Noah North, Josh Fisher, the speedy Clayton Williams, and Dax’s younger brother, Riley. The Vikings also have a talented freshman runner in Deville Dickerson, who could force his way into the mix.
North Kitsap will face stiffer competition than last year, in which it was apparent early on that only Bremerton could possibly challenge for the league title. The Knights expect to contend again, and an improved Olympic squad should also be gunning for the top spot as well. Sequim is also usually tough to play against, especially with Riley Cowan running the show at quarterback.
It’s hard for players to be hungry when their program has had so much success in recent years, but they always seem to find a way to keep themselves motivated.
“You have to give the kids a lot of credit,” Weible said. “They feel that there have been a lot of kids before them who put in a lot of hard work. They feel a sense of responsibility to keep the tradition going.”