Skyline football looking to avenge last year’s early exit
September 2, 2014
By Neil Pierson
When Skyline kicks off the 2014 football season this week against rival Issaquah, it will mark the culmination of a nine-month process for the Spartans as they try to return to the elite echelon of Class 4A programs.
Skyline’s players indicate they haven’t forgotten their 26-20 loss to Federal Way in the first round of the 2013 state playoffs, and it has served as motivation for this season.
The Spartans won’t be able to reap most of the rewards from their offseason work until late fall, but they know wins usually come from the sweat equity they poured out in the spring and summer months.
“We took it to heart,” junior Rashaad Boddie, a running back and linebacker, said of last year’s early exit at state.
“Everyone was in the weight room with our trainer, coach (Kevin) Chiles, every day of the week, strength training and getting ready for the next season.”
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Boddie may be one of the keys for Skyline in its chase for an eighth state title since 2001. The 6-foot, 220-pounder showed flashes of big-play brilliance last year, and although a midseason ankle injury hampered him, he said he’s fully recovered now and ready to contribute as a two-way player.
He has also grown more comfortable with his teammates and coach Mat Taylor’s system since transferring to Skyline from Clayton, N.C., last offseason.
“It was different, because back at my old school, we ran the wing-T, just like Bellevue,” Boddie said. “So then we came here, and it’s a spread offense … I had to get used to everyone, which I am now, so it’s a lot better this year.”
Taylor, who’s entering his seventh season as the Spartans’ head coach, doesn’t expect Boddie to carry the load – literally or figuratively – in the backfield. The team has a proven senior running back in Chandler Wong, and junior Taven Erpenbach provides a capable third option. Taylor thinks they’ll use two-back sets more often.
Last year, the offensive play calls shifted to fit quarterback Kilton Anderson, who provided a dual threat with his legs and arm. But with 6-2 junior Blake Gregory taking over under center, Taylor thinks the team will return to the shotgun spread formations that were so prevalent under past stars Max Browne and Jake Heaps.
“I’m not going to compare him to Max or Jake, but he’s that type of a quarterback,” Taylor said. “Blake is your prototypical, three-step drop in shotgun kind of kid, short to intermediate passing game, and really fits what we do and our comfort level.”
Gregory will have his fair share of weapons to throw to. While senior Derek Loville is the clear standout of the receiving corps, Taylor expects seven others to battle for playing time and provide threats.
Elijah Nichols has “dynamic speed on the outside,” the coach said, while veterans Joe Bretl and Danny Sinatro have a deep understanding of the offense and should do well as possession-type receivers in the slot.
And Gregory should have enough time to get the ball in their hands. Left tackle Cameron Saffle, center Cameron Hill and right guard Riley Griffiths are all returning starters. Senior Nathaniel Kabamba and sophomore Henry Bainivalu will likely fill the other two spots, and Taylor said he feels as good about those five players as he did about the offensive lines that won state titles in 2008 and 2009.
Defensively, the Spartans return several starters from a unit that surrendered a respectable 17 points per game last season.
Saffle, a highly-touted recruit, will shift from linebacker to defensive end in the 3-4 scheme. Wong, Erpenbach, and juniors PJ Cox and Bo Longmore are the project starters at linebacker.
Strong safety Blake Sypher is the most experienced player in the secondary. He’ll be flanked by Loville and Logan Wanamaker at free safety, and Sinatro, Bretl and Jake Pendergast at cornerback.
They’ll be pressed into duty in the season opener at Issaquah. Taylor said he doesn’t recall the teams playing before so early in the season, but with a shift to an eight-game league schedule and only one nonleague outing, it’s an opportunity the Spartans should relish.
“What better opportunity, to have your rival week one, to keep the kids focused in the offseason?” he said.