Eastlake football relishing opening test with Bothell

September 2, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Bothell High School might have one of the premier football teams in the state this season, but the Cougars’ first opponent likes its chances to shock the preseason prognosticators.

By Greg Farrar Eastlake opens its 2014 football season Sept. 5 against Bothell. The Wolves’ top athletes include, from left, senior quarterback Blue Thomas; senior lineman Ivan Jimenez; senior defensive back Michael Nelson; senior running back/linebacker Justin McOmber; senior wide receiver/defensive back Jeffrey Feinglas; and senior wide receiver/defensive back Eric Uhlar.

By Greg Farrar
Eastlake opens its 2014 football season Sept. 5 against Bothell. The Wolves’ top athletes include, from left, senior quarterback Blue Thomas; senior lineman Ivan Jimenez; senior defensive back Michael Nelson; senior running back/linebacker Justin McOmber; senior wide receiver/defensive back Jeffrey Feinglas; and senior wide receiver/defensive back Eric Uhlar.

Eastlake has its sights set on a repeat performance of 2013, when it advanced to the Class 4A state quarterfinals and finished 9-3 under new coach Don Bartel. For the Wolves, their success comes with accolades, but also with the knowledge that they’re no longer going to sneak up on anyone.

Jeffrey Feinglas, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, believes this season is less about what outsiders think, and more about how the Wolves perceive themselves.

With that in mind, the opportunity to host Bothell – the Associated Press’ preseason No. 1 4A team – and pick up a KingCo Conference win this week could be advantageous. Rather than face the Cougars later in the year, the Wolves might be catching them before they hit full stride.

“I really think this is the best time to play them,” Feinglas said. “There’s obviously a lot of hype with (quarterback) Ross Bowers, all their D-I athletes and all that type of stuff.

“But I really think, as a team, we’re more focused together, and we’re not really worried about all that stuff. We’re trying to win football games and come together as a family, and I think that’s where we’ll get them.”

If you go

Bothell at Eastlake football season opener
7 p.m. Sept. 5
Eastlake High School

If the Wolves spring the early upset, credit could go to Bartel and his staff, who’ve taken advantage of their first full offseason at Eastlake by building team depth and unity.

The team witnessed the importance of depth in last season’s state quarterfinal game with Camas. The Wolves ended up losing 47-28, but they gained a lot of respect in the process, giving the Papermakers, the eventual state runners-up, one of their tougher games of the season.

“We need to develop that second line,” Bartel remarked. “As we get guys going both ways, we just change that group – next four linebackers run into the game, and we don’t have a drop off.

“That’s really the job of all those kids. They feel the importance of that. Everybody has a role. Up to this point … our first and second teams have been taking even reps; our threes get a percentage of those reps as well. Our kids understand the importance that they all carry and have an impact on their season.”

Having a senior quarterback to guide the offense is big plus. Blue Thomas threw for 18 touchdowns and more than 2,100 yards last year, and with the graduation of star running backs Drew and Troy Lewis, he could be asked to do more.

“Our offense will be a little bit different,” Feinglas said. “Last year we were primarily run, Blue threw the ball a little bit, but I think our passing game will open up a lot more with some more receivers coming in … and I think we’ll have a lot of fun this year passing the ball.”

Justin McOmber saw spot duties at running back as a junior, and enters the season as the new first-choice back. But because the Wolves will lean on him as a defensive leader at linebacker, he’ll need help on offense, and Bartel thinks he’ll get it.

Dalton Napier, a senior who missed the entire 2013 season with an injury, returns and provides a jack-of-all-trades presence as a runner, pass catcher and blocker. Senior Jack Farr and junior Nathan Mano will also be in the mix for carries.

In the trenches, the Wolves have some solid veterans in seniors Brendan Sullivan (5-foot-11, 270 pounds), Jacob Kaufman and Ivan Jimenez. Bartel said Jimenez had a tremendous offseason, growing bigger and faster: He put on 40 pounds while shaving a half-second off his 40-yard dash time.

Senior captains Michael Nelson and Eric Uhlar will provide leadership from their cornerback and linebacker spots, respectively. But again, the Wolves think depth is the key, and that winning games in KingCo often boils down to getting defensive stops at crucial times.

Decisive playoff wins last season against Roosevelt and Kentwood, followed by an exciting seven-point win over Union, set the blueprint for how the Wolves want to play.

“That’s what team football is all about,” Bartel said. “Programs win big games like that because it takes everyone in the program to get you ready for a game like that.”

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