PORT ORCHARD — Players casually amble on to the turf field at South Kitsap High School on a quintessential late-summer day, congregating at the south end zone before practice begins.
But then a whistle blows and the players snap into focus. As they rotate through various defensive drills, there is plenty of encouragement, upbeat patter and shouts of praise as a player correctly performs the assigned task.
“We all love each other,” explained senior quarterback Garrison Glisson.
“We have spent a lot more time together working in the offseason than we have in years past. We’re definitely closer than we’ve ever been.”
With a new coach in the driver’s seat and the promise of a new season looming ahead, optimism abounds at the South Puget Sound League school on Mitchell Avenue. And for new head coach Cory Vartanian, part of that is leaving the past in the rearview mirror.
South Kitsap, which has not had a winning football season since 2012, went 2-8 last year playing in the newly formed SPSL 4A, one of the toughest leagues in the state.
“One of our primary goals is to not talk about the past,” Vartanian said.
“The only thing that will help this program move forward is to get better each and every day, and rather than go backwards, take steps forward, holding each other accountable along the way.”
The focus is squarely on the future — in 2017, the Wolves only return 10 starters, but they are, fortunately, all at key positions. Vartanian also has a number of returning players with game experience who filled in on the field at various times last year.
There is plenty of speed and skill to go around on offense, with Glisson commanding a unit that features senior wide receiver Quinn Ogan, senior running back Izaiah Davis and junior wide receiver Dajshon Keel. Sophomore running back Deyondre Davis has also impressed in camp and should have an impact.
With plenty of contributors, Vartanian expects to spread the ball around and to not focus the offense on one particular player.
“I think we’ll be fast, moving up and down the field a lot,” Ogan said.
“Garrison does a good job in control of the offense, so we want to play at a fast pace and hopefully score a lot of points.”
On defense, senior defensive tackle Deandre Matanane and senior middle linebacker Norman Pedronas anchor the front seven for the Wolves, along with senior Nathan Marin and junior Matthew Burns at outside linebacker. Junior Angelyko Lund is expected to start at safety.
This group will be put to the test right away. Playing in the SPSL 4A, there are no breaks in the schedule. South Kitsap gets started against three highly ranked schools — Graham-Kapowsin will visit Port Orchard on Sept. 1, then the Wolves will travel to Sumner on Sept. 8 before returning home against Ferndale on Sept. 15.
It’s a daunting schedule, but the players believe they are prepared to play to their potential and lead the program out of the woods and back into prominence.
“I think we’re prepared,” Ogan said.