Pirates set sights on state football championship title

Juniors Carlos Recendez, left, and Kyle Bakker run an offensive line drill while head coach Clay Eastly directs on the first day of football practice Aug. 19. - Rik Forschmiedt photo
Juniors Carlos Recendez, left, and Kyle Bakker run an offensive line drill while head coach Clay Eastly directs on the first day of football practice Aug. 19.
— image credit: Rik Forschmiedt photo

Vashon High School head football coach Clay Eastly didn’t hesitate when asked about the Pirates’ prospect this season.

“Our goal is to win our league and win a state championship.

“This is the first time in the 10 years I’ve been with the program that’s a realistic goal,” he added.

While many high school students can be expected to spend the final weeks of summer vacation soaking up sun at the beach, the Pirate football team, dominated by juniors and seniors, has been out on the practice field every day since Aug. 19 preparing for the first game Sept. 4 at Sultan.

Last year the Pirates advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history, losing in the first round. This year the players and coaches are determined to return to state and advance to the Gridiron Classic, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association football championships Dec. 4 and 5 in the Tacoma Dome.

Eastly’s staff includes Rick Sassara, defensive coordinator and quarterback coach; Scott Betz, defensive backs and wide receivers; Mark Ledbetter, offensive line and linebackers; Bob Jackson, running backs and defensive line; Wes York, offensive and defensive line, and trainer Jason Alberthal. Eastly is the offensive coordinator.

Team captains, all seniors, are Kyle York, linebacker and o-line; Joel Harvey, o-line and d-line; Austin Franks, slot receiver and strong safety, and Quinn Holert, quarterback and weak safety.

Holert, recovering from surgery for a non-football injury, will be backed up at quarterback by junior Jeff Rauma for the first game or two.

The Pirates’ kicking game should be one of the best at any level with two kickers returning from last year. Right-footed Nick Fox-Edele and left-footed Adrian Arceo were key to several of Vashon’s wins last season.

Junior Kyle Bakker at right guard has college potential, said the coaches; and Brandyn Gregg is another key player. Nathan Betz, first team All-Nisqually League as running back and nose guard, is joined as running back by Alex Sohl and Arceo.

“We may have the best group of guys talentwise that I’ve ever seen,” said Sassara. “They’ve put in an enormous amount of work in the off-season to prepare themselves.”

Acknowledging that expectations are very high this season, Sassara continued, “We’ve put ourselves in a position to compete with any team in 1A.”

“We’ve never (before) had a situation where we don’t have any weaknesses,” said Betz.

Sassara said the team is probably two-deep at every position and many of the players have been in the program since sixth grade.

This year’s team is dominated by experienced players, and the program has lost only eight players to graduation in two years. All the coaches agreed that experience and maturity have made the difference from the string of winless and one-win seasons that ended last year.

Sassara noted they are no longer teaching “remedial football” and can coach the subtleties of the game.

The coaches’ enthusiasm is reflected by the players on the practice field, with no grumbling or complaining evident as they run through drills in the hot sun.

“I think we can go further in the state tournament, maybe even the championship,” said Holert. In his third year in the program, Holert sees “more commitment from the juniors and seniors.”

Forced to watch from the sidelines for now, he is also impressed by how the captains are leading the team.

Franks is even more optimistic, not mincing words as he said, “We’re gonna achieve our goal to win the state title.”

In his fourth year as a Pirate after starting football as a seventh-grader at McMurray Middle School, Franks sees experience and depth in the players as key to success this year.

After opening Sept. 4 at Sultan, a strong 2A team, Vashon travels to Bainbridge Island, ranked second in some pre-season polls in the 3A Metro League, Sept. 11. The first home game is Sept. 18 against Lakeside. Homecoming is Oct. 16 against Chimacum.

Vashon has only four home games this year.

Eastly tries to “play as tough a competition as we can” in the early non-league games. In the Nisqually League he expects Orting and Cascade Christian to give Vashon the toughest fight for the title.

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