SEATTLE – Change is the name of the game for Western Washington’s Catholic high school football teams this fall, many of them kicking off the season with new rosters and new facilities.
The Eastside Catholic Crusaders, defending Class 3A state champions, are starting off the year ranked first in the state by MaxPreps, a high school sports website. While still savoring last year’s 35-13 triumph over Bellevue in the finals, it’s time for the team from Sammamish to take another step forward, said Coach Jeremy Thielbahr.
“It’s a new team, a new journey, and a new group of kids,” he said, with three returning starters on defense and eight returning on offense.
This year’s team has a responsibility to safeguard the title and tradition of their predecessors, he said, starting with the Sept. 4 Honor Bowl, a four-game showcase in San Diego. (The Crusaders’ game against Oceanside, California, High School will be televised.)
But Eastside’s biggest game will be its Oct. 16 homecoming matchup with rival O’Dea High School, Thielbahr said. The Crusaders have never won a home game against O’Dea, he said.
Eastside Catholic football players and twin brothers Deion and Dominique Fetui celebrate their team’s Class 3A state title win against Bellevue, Dec. 5, 2014. Photo: Stacey Stoutt
Rebuilding year for O’Dea
O’Dea coach Monte Kohler said each game will be important for O’Dea’s Fighting Irish. After a 9-2 record last year, the team is ranked third in Class 3A by the Associated Press and 15th in the state by MaxPreps.
“We just want to get better each week,” Kohler said.
The season starts Sept. 3 with a 5 p.m. game against Vancouver College at West Seattle Stadium. O’Dea’s first home game is Sept. 25 against Seattle Preparatory School.
Kohler said he prefers to keep his kids focused on the game ahead of them instead of rivalries, but he knows alumni will be excited for the October game against Eastside, who beat them last year.
With few starters returning, in many ways this season will be a rebuilding year for the team, Kohler said. But he and his players are excited about the coming season. “They’re not bored with anything,” Kohler said. “They’re going to be fresh.”
Seattle Prep ‘just getting started’
Across Capitol Hill, the Seattle Prep Panthers are hoping to improve this year after going 5-5 last season.
“We play in a particularly difficult division,” said coach Bill McMahon.
The team has some work to do to replace the players who graduated, McMahon said, but eight starters are returning and other players have a lot of varsity experience.
“We’re just getting started, but we like where we’re at,” he said. “We’re well ahead of where I expected.”
The Panthers, honored last year as the Class 3A team with the highest GPA, start their season Sept. 4 against Bothell’s Cedar Park Christian School. The 5 p.m. home game is at West Seattle Stadium.
A recent Seattle Prep football practice. Photo: Wesley Chism Jr.
New lights and coach for Blanchet
Bishop Blanchet High School kicks off its season at 5 p.m. Sept. 4 against Mercer Island, but it may be just as exciting when the school flips on its new field lights Sept. 18 for Blanchet’s first-ever home night game.
Seattle City Light could not guarantee the lights would be ready for the Sept. 4 game, said coach Kyle Moore, so the team will be kicking off early that day and “letting Mother Nature take care of the rest.”
Moore, a former Blanchet Brave, is in his first year as varsity head coach and has a lot of confidence in his team. He coached the seniors when they were freshmen, and said they are “the hardest working class we’ve ever had.”
Ranked 28th in the state this year, the Braves had a 7-3 record in 2014. They have six starters returning on offense and five on defense, and will be making use of their deep bench, Moore said.
“I don’t see anyone blowing us out,” he said.
The team will be gunning for O’Dea in an Oct. 2 home game. Blanchet hasn’t beaten O’Dea in 21 years, so winning at home “would mean a lot,” Moore said.
Farewell season for Kennedy’s coach
Kennedy Catholic High School will say goodbye to longtime football coach Bob Bourgette at the end the 2015 season. “Every day’s a blessing” Bourgette said, after 44 years of coaching at the school, including 20 as head coach.
The Lancers, who had a 9-1 record last year, lost experienced players on both sides of the ball, but have more depth than in the past, Bourgette said. That will allow them to keep fresh players on the field.
“It’s a very, very, very solid team,” he said.
The season opener is a Sept. 4 home game against Rainier Beach, with a 5 p.m. kickoff at Highline Stadium. While excited to see the Lancers play Lindbergh High School on Oct. 1 and Hazen High School on Oct. 30, Bourgette said he doesn’t like to look too far ahead.
“My theory is your next game is the most important game of your life,” he said.
Bourgette’s upcoming retirement isn’t the only change the Lancers can expect this year. The school has completed construction of a new turf field and is awaiting city approval to begin playing games there. In future years, Kennedy Catholic plans to install permanent bleachers and lights.
Bellarmine kicks off at Husky Stadium
Tacoma’s Bellarmine Preparatory School starts the season ranked 35th in the state after losing in the Class 4A state quarterfinals last year.
“We expect to be competitive,” coach Brian Jensen said. “We’ve got some good leadership with the seniors.”
The Lions’ first game is 7 p.m. Sept. 5 against Bonney Lake in the Emerald City Kickoff Classic at Husky Stadium in Seattle.
The Lions play in a strong conference, Jensen said, but their biggest rival is Spokane’s Gonzaga Preparatory School, who they face Sept. 11 at home.
“It’s always great when two Jesuit schools can play,” Jensen said.
New field at Archbishop Murphy
In Everett, 93rd-ranked Archbishop Murphy High School opens its season at 7 p.m. Sept. 4 with a non-conference home game against Notre Dame Regional from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Coach Jerry Jensen said he is excited the Wildcats will be playing this season on a new turf field.
The team is returning eight starters on both defense and offense, and Jensen expects to be competitive in their division. Their biggest rivals in the 2A Cascade Conference are King’s High School in Shoreline and Lakewood High School in Arlington, he said. The Wildcats’ losses to those teams last year accounted for two of their three losses all season he said.
“We’re hoping to turn that tide this year,” Jensen said.
New coach at Seton Catholic
Seton Catholic High School in Vancouver finished 1-9 last year, but athletic director Phil Kent said he hopes new coach Will Ephraim can help the team improve this season.
Ephraim played defensive back for Oregon State University from 1991-94 and coached at nearby Camas High School.
“I’m excited to see the fast-paced style of football Will Ephraim is bringing to the squad,” Kent said.
The Cougars play their first game against cross-town rival King’s Way Christian High School at 6 p.m. Sept. 4.