PORT ORCHARD — With a full year of spring football and summer workouts behind them, the South Kitsap Wolves football team and head coach Cory Vartanian are feeling far more optimistic about their prospects after last year’s winless season.
For the first time in school history, the Wolves lost nine or more games, going 0-10. It was a tough situation for both the players — for the seniors, it was their third head coach in four years — and Vartanian, who was hired just a couple of weeks before spring football began.
While Vartanian had spent the past seven seasons as an assistant, taking the top job was an entirely new experience. It takes time to implement a new tactical and cultural vision for a program.
“This feels like a full year as far as creating a foundation and building the foundation of what’s to come,” Vartanian said after his team’s recent jamboree. “This is a good starting point. Give credit to the guys who have been committed over the winter, through the spring and summer practices. It’s slowly but surely paying off,” Vartanian said.
“Going into this season, we feel a heck of a lot better than we did last season,” he added.
The enthusiasm was far more palpable at the jamboree on Aug. 24 at Kitsap Bank Stadium. While teams don’t go full bore during these scrimmages, the players’ reactions to a good tackle or a forced fumble sounded much like they would during a game.
The defense acquitted itself well against tough league competition last year, and the offense should see improvement, particularly with wide receivers Dajshon Keel and Alec Johnson taking prominent roles in the offense. They will be relied upon by first-year quarterback Hezekiah Moore. Keel and Moore hooked up for touchdowns three times during the jamboree against the Bremerton and Central Kitsap defenses.
The Wolves also have a pair of strong running backs in Matthew Burns and Tyson Carter. They will run behind returning linemen Ethan Fragoso and Zowie Pangelinan.
The schedule hasn’t gotten any easier for the Wolves. They open the season at home against Sumner, the No. 6 team in 4A as ranked by the Seattle Times. Also looming is the No. 1 4A team, Graham-Kapowsin, and its University of Washington-bound quarterback Dylan Morris. Last year’s SPSL 4A champions, Puyallup, also received votes in the Seattle Times poll. Their league also includes the perennially solid programs at Olympia and Bellarmine Prep, making it arguably one of the toughest in the state.
“We’re going to compete, no matter what,” Vartanian said.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.