Kentwood broke through with its first trip to the 4A state football playoffs in seven years last fall.
Having experience it, coach Mike Bush and the Conquerors would like to make a deeper run into the postseason this season.
To get there, Kentwood must navigate a tougher course, joining the top-tier Mountain Division of the new-look North Puget Sound League this year. The six-team division includes Auburn Riverside, which captured the NPSL Olympic title a season ago; Tahoma, which upended Kentwood last year; high-powered Kennedy Catholic; Todd Beamer; and Enumclaw.
What’s more, the Conks open the season against heralded Skyline in Sammamish next Friday.
Bush welcomes the difficult challenge.
“We’re excited about it,” said Bush, who enters his fourth season at Kentwood, having directed his team to the playoffs each year. “From our vantage point, we’re going to play better teams. Competition is going to be hard and hopefully it prepares us for the playoffs.”
Prior to last season, Kentwood had won its division, only to stumble in the first round of the playoffs each time.
Bush knows as much.
“We’ve got to get over (the hump),” he said. “We stubbed our toe in Week 10 and Week 11 of the last few years. We always play a Kingco team … (but) with a better league, it will help us prepare for that (playoff foe).”
Kentwood reloads with a new player pulling the trigger behind center. Gone to graduation is record-setting Justin Seiber, who threw for more than 3,200 yards and 36 TDs last season. Enter Nathan Laborde, a junior who is familiar with the offense, sophomore Jalin Church and junior George Strunk, a transfer from Mount Si. The three are locked in a battle for the starting job.
On the receiving end, Kentwood returns a pair of good hands in junior Alphonse Oywak, who caught 35 passes for 525 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Up front, the Conquerors are stout with the return of Wyatt Hansen, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound junior who was the NPSL Cascade Division Offensive Lineman of the Year last season. Kentwood also returns seniors Luke Klein (5-11, 250) and Conner McArthur (6-4 320), who has recovered from a thumb injury.
The Conquerors expect to challenge for the division title. It’s a program expectation. Kentwood was won or shared the last six division championships.
“We lost a lot,” Bush said of his roster. “We’re really young but we played a lot of sophomores last year.
”We’re excited about the challenge.”
Kentridge on the rise
The Chargers continue to rebuild and make improvement under second-year coach Brett Ogata.
Six offensive and five defensive starters return from last year’s 2-8 team.
Gone to graduation is Solomon Hines, a versatile playmaker who was selected the NPSL Cascade Special Teams Player of the Year. Back is the focal point of Ogata’s spread attack, Natano Woods, a 6-5, 250-pound senior quarterback who broke six school records in throwing for more than 1,800 yards and 14 TDs last season. Woods earned honorable-mention, all-league recognition.
Also returning are a pair of wide receivers who were honorable-mention, all-Cascade performers – Michael Faber (6-2, 175, junior) and Ben Victoria (6-2, 180, senior). Faber caught nine TD passes, averaging 23.3 yards per catch, while Victoria averaged 26 yards a catch, accumulating 533 yards in receptions last season.
Victoria also was the Cascade Division’s first-team punter.
Jaron Gonzales (5-8, 190, senior, 492 yards last season) will run behind familiar lineman James Adams (6-3, 270, senior) and Jacob Crumb (6-3, 275, junior).
Defensively, Jeremy Banks (6-1, 185, senior) was the Chargers’ leading tackler last season. Banks, Victoria, Will Acay (6-1, 175, junior) and Louie Albrecht (6-0, 180, junior) will roam the secondary. Closer to the front, Kentridge returns linebackers Jaron Gonzales (5-8, 190, senior) and Payton Thomas (5-8, 190) and lineman Jeremiah Thomas (5-8, 205, senior).
“If we can stay healthy, we can be a competitive team,” Ogata said.
Kent-Meridian has a new coach in Justin Callander. The Royals, 0-10 last season, have three returning standouts in lineman Tua Areta (6-3, 290, senior), a second-team all-Cascade player, linebacker Aaron Tulloch (6-3, 235, senior) and defensive back De’land Ford (6-2, 185, senior).