Back in the game

August 13, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

Bellevue Bulldogs JC football team gives local players a second chance

Dalton Darlington (right), Liberty High School graduate and defensive lineman/linebacker, blocks an offensive lineman Aug. 6 during a team drill. Photo by Greg Farrar

Dalton Darlington (right), Liberty High School graduate and defensive lineman/linebacker, blocks an offensive lineman Aug. 6 during a team drill. Photo by Greg Farrar

For most high school football athletes, their career on the gridiron ends when the last of the Friday night lights flicker to darkness.

Some go on to play the sport at the collegiate level and beyond, but that isn’t an option for the majority. The itch to get on the field, tackle an opponent and be a part of a unique brotherhood is not easily tossed aside, though.

The Bellevue Bulldogs junior college football team hopes to provide the relief to that itch, and encourage athletes to remain in school while continuing their career.

“The biggest issue is that when an individual gets out of high school, and maybe doesn’t have the grades or a scholarship to get into a four-year school, there was nothing in this area for him to play football, until now,” said Larry Rude, an Issaquah resident and Bellevue Bulldogs trustee.

Led by head coach Kevin Bouwman, the first-year team features local players from various community colleges. It will compete in the Northwest Junior College Football League, playing against teams from across the state.

Though the team carries the mascot of Bellevue College, and most of its players attend the school, it is independent of the college, Bouwman said.

“We can’t be involved with the schools. They just don’t have the budget for it, for liability and all that,” he said.

 

A second chance to play

The makeup of the team is largely similar, Rude said. These are young men who likely did not obtain scholarships to a four-year college, had academic issues that prevented them from going to a university or, like 2010 Skyline High School graduate Jeremy Hamm, physically matured at a different pace.

Hamm did not even play football for the Spartans during his time at Skyline, opting instead to play basketball.

“I was a hooper,” he said. “When I graduated high school, I got a lot bigger and did a lot of lifting. I used to be really skinny.”

His size made him an attractive lineman prospect, so Hamm spent a year playing at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., before returning home to play locally for the Bulldogs.

“It’s way easier on my parents. Playing out of state is pretty pricey,” Hamm said.

Several of the players have similar stories, often returning from an out-of-state school because of the expenses. It is just another reason why a local option like the Bulldogs is necessary, Bouwman said.

The players range in age from about 23 to fresh out of high school, like 2013 Issaquah High School graduates Andrew Pintar and Kui Kapu, and 2013 Liberty High School graduate Dalton Darlington.

Darlington, a defensive lineman, managed to stay healthy during the Patriots’ unlucky run of injuries last season, but he wasn’t ready to hang up his cleats after he graduated. He joined the Bulldogs after Liberty coach Steve Valach mentioned the opportunity.

“Playing under the Friday night lights is just so cool at Liberty and I wanted to continue my football career if I possibly could,” he said.

Kapu, a wide receiver and defensive back, explored some out-of-state options to continue his career, but ultimately decided to stay home when he heard about the formation of the Bulldogs.

“When I heard that Bellevue was starting a team, I thought it was awesome because I still wanted to play football,” he said. “I want to cherish every moment of it that I can.”

Pintar only played football his senior year, backing up talented Issaquah kicker, and good friend, Alex Shane. He had fun during his first year at the sport, so he decided to give it another shot with the Bulldogs.

“My goal is to move forward past this junior college football and move on to a Division I or Division II school,” Pintar said.

 

‘No kid is left behind’

That is the goal of most of these players, to play and get noticed by a four-year school willing to offer a scholarship, said Bouwman, who played college football himself, starring at linebacker for Utah State University.

“You ask any one of them and their aspirations are to go to that next level,” he said. “I will do everything I can to give them that opportunity.”

The team includes players from across the Puget Sound area, including Issaquah, Renton, Bellevue and Seattle. Athletes are required to take at least five credits of junior college coursework to join the team, though Bouwman suggests they take more.

“First and foremost, the goal is to get these guys in school,” he said. “I encourage them to be taking a full load, 12 credits at least, so that if that opportunity to go to the next level arises, they’re ready for it academically, too.”

As an independent team, the Bulldogs are solely responsible for their expenses. That includes uniforms, field time, referees and practice equipment, all amassing a tally of nearly $40,000 this season.

The Bulldogs officially began practicing at Ringdall Middle School in Bellevue, the former site of Eastside Catholic High School. The field is rough, filled with ruts, but it is all the team can afford for now.

“We’re starting from scratch now,” Rude said. “The four trustees on the board have put in their own money to get this thing rolling, but we’re not really wealthy guys.”

The team is looking for sponsors to help with the costs, and every little bit helps, Rude said. The team could also use volunteers, coaches and fans, he added.

“We want to make sure no kid is left behind,” he said.

The Bellevue Bulldogs kick off their season Aug. 31 against Kitsap Peninsula Junior College. Their first home game, held at Renton Memorial Stadium, is Sept. 22.

you should know

 

Local players on theBellevue Bulldogs

  • Andrew Pintar, K/WR, IHS
  • Braden Bouwman-Hess, QB, IHS
  • Dalton Darlington, DL/LB, LHS
  • Issac Solomon, DB/RB, IHS
  • Jeremy Hamm, OL/DL, SHS
  • Kui Kapu, DB/WR, IHS
  • Tommy Drorbaugh, OL/DL, IHS

 

On the Web

Donate, or become a sponsor, to the Bellevue Bulldogs junior college football team at www.bellevuejcfootball.com. Learn more about the Bulldogs on the team’s Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/1d5m6re.

 

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