PORT ORCHARD — When Dan Ericson arrived at Klahowya eight years ago to take the reins of the football program, the Eagles had the state’s longest losing streak among 11-man teams.
Next season, Ericson, 44, will look to stem the tide at South Kitsap as the district administration announced Tuesday, Jan. 22, that it had chosen the Klahowya coach to lead the Wolves football team. He takes over for Cory Vartanian, who coached the past two seasons and went 0-20.
It will be quite a jump going from the 1A Nisqually League to the 4A South Puget Sound League, but Ericson believes he is up to the task.
“I love a good challenge,” Ericson said.
Ericson, who was one of 19 applicants for the job, was a starting quarterback for three seasons at Shelton High School in Mason County in the early 1990s and attended Central Washington University. Prior to coaching at Klahowya, he served as both an offensive and a defensive coordinator at Olympic.
The situation at South Kitsap is eerily similar to the one he inherited at Klahowya. When he took over the Eagles in 2011, he replaced a coach, Lyle Prouse, who had also gone 0-20 in two seasons at the helm.
Ericson made it a point to recruit hard within the school and soon turnout dwarfed most other 1A teams. The team improved to 2-8 in 2011 and 4-5 in 2012 before getting back above .500 in 2013. Klahowya went 7-3 in both 2016 and 2018; in the latter season, the team returned to the state playoffs for the first time since 2004 and second time in school history.
That experience and Ericson’s ties to South Kitsap — his wife and brother-in-law are alumni as are a number of his friends — convinced him to apply for the job.
“It just hit me that their situation is similar to the one I inherited at Klahowya,” Ericson said. “I just knew I had to do it.”
The first step for Ericson is to put together a coaching staff as quickly as possible. He also plans to have a meet-and-greet with the parents, drawing on his previous experience at Klahowya of having to gain the trust of players and parents. In the year prior to Ericson’s arrival, several players had planned a walkout at that season’s homecoming game. Needless to say, the situation was dire on Newberry Hill Road.
Ericson recalled that one of the keys was to move forward and not dwell on the past.
“We didn’t talk about the past,” Ericson said. “I certainly didn’t want to speak ill of any coaches and I’m just not interested in worrying about that. It worked out well for us.”
Can he turn around what was once one of Kitsap’s best and most consistent football programs? Only time will tell.
“What an opportunity it is, it just adds to the story,” Ericson said. “That’s a tough league. You get back to winning games in that league, you’re prepared for the postseason.”
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MKrulishKDN.