Skyline seeks new team identity
June 24, 2014
By Neil Pierson
After winning back-to-back state championships, the Skyline High School football program didn’t have the glorious ending it expected for the 2013 season.
The Spartans cruised to an 8-1 regular-season record and the Class 4A KingCo Conference Crown Division title, but lost to Federal Way in the first round of the state playoffs.
Practices are underway in preparation for the 2014 campaign, and the Spartans are hungry for redemption. But seventh-year head coach Mat Taylor wants his players to establish their own identities, and not just look to replicate the program’s seven state title-winning teams.
“The first thing that I see is a group that’s very inclusive,” Taylor said. “It starts with our captains and our seniors, but they have really taken to the identity piece, that this is a new year.”
Senior Blake Sypher, who will share captain’s duties along with Cameron Saffle and Chandler Wong, indicated last year’s team was too reliant on the program’s winning history, particularly in the loss to Federal Way.
“I feel like our team just kind of expected that we were going to win … and obviously that didn’t happen,” Sypher said. “But I think that we know that we need to take every game like it’s our last and just play hard all the time.”
Skyline will introduce new players in several positions, most notably at quarterback, where junior Blake Gregory has earned the starting assignment. He replaces Kilton Anderson, who is now playing collegiately at Fresno State University.
Taylor said Gregory could’ve been the starter last season if Anderson hadn’t transferred to Skyline from Naples, Fla. Gregory doesn’t have Anderson’s speed, but his coach likes his characteristics.
“He has great pocket presence and he really fits our spread offense very, very well,” Taylor said. “This time next year, we could be talking about, potentially, what type of school he’s going to go to.”
Running back should be a strong suit for the Spartans as Wong and junior Rashaad Boddie figure to split carries as they did last season. Boddie is the prototypical back with great speed, while Wong adds a punishing, low-to-the-ground style that works particularly well in short-yardage situations.
Sharing the load is a welcome situation, Wong indicated.
“We’ll both be playing defense, so it’ll give us a good break so we’re not going both ways the entire game,” he said. “And sharing carries just means different looks for the defenses so they won’t get used to just one running back.”
Derek Loville may be poised to become Skyline’s next great wide receiver. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound junior has received a scholarship offer from the University of Wyoming, and more offers could be in store if Loville puts up big numbers. Taylor said he thinks he’s capable of 70-plus receptions this year.
“He can jump out of the gym,” the coach said. “His ball skills are very, very good.”
Along the offensive and defensive fronts, the Spartans will see the return of three starters in Saffle, senior Riley Griffiths and junior Cameron Hill. They’ll be expected to pick up the slack after stalwarts Reggie Long and Joshua Wright graduated.
Henry Bainivalu could be a big addition — literally. He’s listed at 6-3, 235 pounds, and is only a sophomore, but is penciled in as the starter at right tackle.
“He played the majority of the second half in the Federal Way game when Joshua Wright got hurt,” Taylor said, “so he’s been out there.”
Wong said he likes the look of Skyline’s front seven, and he expects improvements in the secondary, which had some struggles.
“I think everyone’s got that itch to just keep on winning in the playoffs,” he said. “I don’t think any of us expected to lose (to Federal Way) … No one wants that feeling again that we had last year.”
Winning doesn’t figure to be easy: KingCo 4A got smaller — Ballard, Garfield and Roosevelt dropped to 3A — but is likely tougher with the addition of Mount Si.
Taylor, who lives in North Bend, said he often attends Mount Si’s games during Skyline’s bye weeks, and might be more aware of the Wildcats’ capabilities than other people.
“Every week, you’re going to go against quality opponents that are very, very well-coached, and I think this conference is as strong as it’s ever been this year,” he said. “Bothell will probably be a preseason No. 1 — they have all their kids back.”