Head coach Erik Wiker gives instructions to his team during a summer practice. “I think this can be another really good season,” the longtime Wolves coach said. “We’ve got some challenges and changes, but this is a good team.” Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

Head coach Erik Wiker gives instructions to his team during a summer practice. “I think this can be another really good season,” the longtime Wolves coach said. “We’ve got some challenges and changes, but this is a good team.” Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

Fall sports preview: Wolves’ football ready for change

A much-changed offense and a lockdown defense highlight look ahead to 2019 season

Fall sports preview: Sequim High School Football

2018 record: 8-1 overall, 6-0 in Olympic League (first place); 1-1 in postseason

Head coach: Erik Wiker (16th season); Assistants: Dave Ditlefsen, Kenny Hall, Mike McFarlen, Jerry Mote, Bob Withrow, Chris Young

Key returning players: Taig Wiker (Jr., QB/FS), Lane Mote (Jr., LB/RB), Caleb Pozernick (Jr., OL/DT), Michael Young (Jr., WR/DB), Walker Ward (Jr., RB/LB), Brandon Barnett (Jr., C/DT), Isaiah Cowan (Jr., LB), Truman Nestor (Jr., RB/LB), Hayden Eaton (Jr. WR/DB), Trenton Rocha (Jr., TE/OLB)

Key newcomers: Dallin Despain (Jr., WR/DB), Zach Ballantyne (Sr., WR/DB)

After a successful season in 2018 that saw the Sequim High School go undefeated in Olympic League play, the bar is set high for the 2019 season.

Even those outside the region have noticed, with the Seattle Times naming the Wolves their No. 10 team in their rankings of 2A classification teams going into the season.

That said, with four-year starting quarterback Riley Cowan graduated alongside a handful of other major leaders in the team, the Wolves’ strong core of juniors is going to have to step up in a big, big way to maintain that momentum. Taig Wiker is set to fill Cowan’s shoes at QB after starring as a running back a year ago, and he and his team are going to have to work hard to meet last year’s standards.

New face of team

After being led by Cowan for years and having a playbook designed around his strengths in the pocket, the Wolves’ offense is going to have to change a little with Wiker under center.

“We’ll have some more designed runs and things to take advantage of Taig’s playmaking ability,” Wolves’ head coach Erik Wiker said, “but it’ll mostly be done within the same kind of thing we were already doing.”

Taig Wiker already has experience in the system, a dynamic threat out of the backfield in 2018 as a playmaking running back and the primary backup to Cowan, though his in-game experience as a varisty quarterback is still limited. He got in a healthy amount of snaps against Kingston last season in a blowout 51-14 win on the road. In that game Wiker completed 10-of-17 passes for 143 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was 0-for-4 passing with one interception the rest of the season.

Despite that relative inexperience, though, Taig isn’t afraid of the challenge he’s facing.

“I feel comfortable,” Taig said in a post-practice interview. “I learned a lot from Riley, and I’m ready to take this on.”

Wiker said that he feels no extra pressure from being the head coach’s son, and that if anything he’s hoping it’ll give him an advantage in being able to learn more away from practices.

A retooled offense

Taking Taig out of the backfield will also necessitate changing things up at running back a bit, but Erik Wiker and assistant coach Chris Young both say that Walker Ward and Truman Nestor are ready to step up and work together to fill his shoes.

“Nestor offers some of that same dynamic play that Taig did,” Young said, while Wiker praised Ward as a “downhill workhorse” out of the backfield, which he says his team “really can take advantage of.”

Ward received limited touches last season, but says he isn’t going to let that hold him back.

“I feel strong in practices, and I learned a lot from Taig and everyone else the last two years,” the junior said. “I’m ready to show everyone what I’ve got.”

The receiving corps will require a bit of a re-work as well, with Kyler Rollness graduated and Wiker no longer an option out of the backfield. Coaches expect junior Michael Young is expected by coaches to step up as a more dynamic playmaking presence, and coaches are also hoping that junior Hayden Eaton can be relied on more after making just one catch in 2018 to use his height and speed to create mismatches in the secondary.

Junior Ryan Porter has also stood out in practices as a potential threat out wide, showing good speed and an eye for spaces in the defense.

Young in particular felt confident in his ability to step up to the table.

“I can do some things no one has seen yet,” he said. “I’m ready for more touches so I can show just what I can do.”

Much of the offense will rely of the Wolves’ quality on the line, where 2018 starters Caleb Pozernick and Brandon Barnett return as juniors. Barnett was on the All-Olympic League second team as a standout center in his sophomore year, and is expected to take further steps in his development and leadership of the line this year. Pozernick has the size and technique to be an excellent lineman, and at right tackle in an offense that will be using more quarterback runs as Erik Wiker intimated they will be, he’ll be vitally important to keeping the offense rolling.

Lockdown defense

With the offense seemingly in flux, the Wolves will be relying on their defense to keep them in games at times. Fortunately, Erik Wiker said, he has full faith in his defenders’ ability to do just that.

“We’ve got a great group on that side of the ball,” he said at an early practice. “We played some summer league games in seven on sevens, and hardly anyone could score on us. That’s hard to pull off.”

Young added that even in summer league games against much bigger and more talented schools, the Wolves’ defense didn’t back down from the challenge. Several key defenders graduated — including first-team Olympic League defensive end Ben Cowan and linebacker Johnnie Young, plus second-team defensive back Joey Oliver — but the Wolves aren’t lacking for talent on that side of the ball.

Wiker called junior Lane Mote one of the best linebackers he’s ever coached, which is high praise considering some of the high-quality linebackers Wiker’s had at SHS over the years. Mote was also singled out by several of his teammates as one of the top players on defense to watch for his ability to stop the ball.

Wiker also noted that junior Isaiah Cowan, who performed well at outside linebacker last season, would be moving inside for 2019, which he believes will better suit Cowan’s talents.

“I’ve been working hard to get ready to play there,” Cowan said when asked of the move. “I’ve got a lot of impressive teammates around me, and that makes it easier.”

Garrett Hoesel has stood out in the secondary during defensive drills in summer practices, and his teammates see it.

“Garrett can (defend) anyone in the league,” Taig Wiker said. “He’s an absolute lockdown corner.”

Meanwhile Barnett, Pozernick, and junior Trenton Rocha have all looked very good on the defensive line in practices this summer.

Building for success now — and next year

One common theme unites the Wolves’ top players for this season — they’re all juniors. The backbone of this team is largely formed by members of the junior class, many of whom either started or otherwise got significant playing time last season. “This is a good situation to be in as a coach,” Wiker said. “I’ve got a team of experienced, talented players who still have another year left after this one.”

Wiker says that having a squad like this make it a lot easier for him to coach more ambitiously, because the bulk of his team is already familiar with him, but still has more room to grow and learn. That lets him get a little more creative at times, something not all high school coaches have the luxury to do.

He’s hoping that will help the Wolves’ replicate much of last year’s success, and still be able to grow into a bigger and better team in the 2020 season when his stars are all seniors and ready to take an even bigger step forward in their development as players.

What’s better? They’ve got another group behind them that Young thinks is just as good.

“I look at this group of freshmen and I see a lot of similarities to our juniors,” Young said. “There’s a lot of kids in that group who have a lot of potential, and kids who could see varsity playing time sooner rather than later.”

The more experienced players see it too. Brett Mote, Isaiah Moore and Samuel FitzGerald all drew praise from teammates when asked about younger players who could step up if needed, and all three have had standout moments during varsity practices. Playing time will likely be limited for all three this season, but they’ll be names to watch over the next few years.

That certainly makes this look like a team that, if things break right and develop as it looks like they can, could be a long-term contender in the 2A state playoffs for several years to come.

SHS Football — 2019 season schedule

Sept. 6 — Washington at Sequim, 6:30 p.m.

Notes: Sequim opens their season against their old Nisqually League rivals for the second year in a row … the Wolves won 44-21 last season … Michael Young scored his first of five touchdowns of the season against Washington, with five receptions for 120 yards … Washington went 7-5 last season, finishing third in the South Puget Sound League 2A Mountain Division … the Patriots won their district playoff game against White River (27-10), then fell to Hockinson in the first round of the 2A state playoffs (47-14) … the Wolves hold a 9-6 all-time record against the Patriots, including six wins in a row.

Sept. 13 — Sequim at Forks, 7 p.m.

Notes: Sequim beat Forks 20-16 at SHS last year … Forks missed the playoffs last year, having gone just 1-3 in league play, but went 5-4 overall … the Spartans’ game against Sequim was their closest scoreline all season, with an average margin of victory of 31.6 points, and an average margin of defeat of 24.5 points … Forks lost to Hoquiam 42-13 to finish their season, one week after Hoquiam beat the Wolves 42-35 … SHS was a 36-14-3 all-time record over Forks.

Sept. 20 — Sequim at North Kitsap, 7 p.m.

Notes: The Wolves beat North Kitsap 16-14 last season, though thanks to a late touchdown by the Vikings and a couple of missed opportunities for the Wolves, the game perhaps wasn’t quite as close as the scoreline … the Vikings finished 2018 with a 5-1 Olympic League record, good for second place behind SHS … North Kitsap was 9-2 overall on the season, beating River Ridge in district playoff action (33-22) before getting edged out by Fife in the first round of 2A state playoffs (24-21) … the Vikings boasted the Olympic League’s toughest defense in 2018, giving up just under seven points per game in league play.

Sept. 27 — Sequim at North Mason, 6:30 p.m.

Notes: Sequim has won five straight games against North Mason, including last season’s 20-0 shutout at the Bulldogs’ homecoming game … North Mason went 2-4 in league play last season, and 4-6 overall … the Bulldogs were 3-0 going into their game against SHS last seaosn, but lost all but one game after that meeting.

Oct. 4 – Kingston at Sequim, 6:30 p.m.

Notes: The Wolves ran all over Kingston last season, scoring a season-high number of points en route to a 51-12 win … this was the one game that Taig Wiker spent significant time under center, throwing for two touchdowns. He also ran seven times for 80 yards and another touchdown, and caught one pass for a 20-yard touchdown … Kingston went 0-6 in league action last season (3-7 overall), getting shut out twice in a row by North Kitsap and Bremerton, and giving up 92 combined points in those two games … Kingston scored more than 20 points just three times last season.

Oct. 11 — Olympic at Sequim, 6:30 p.m.

Notes: Sequim beat Olympic 28-9 in Bremerton last season, and own a three-game winning streak against the Trojans … Young had his biggest game of the season against Olympic last season, catching a season-high seven passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns … Olympic finished 3-3 in Olympic League action, good for third place and a district playoff berth … the Trojans lost that district playoff game to Eatonville (64-27) … Olympic went 3-7 overall on the season, allowing almost 36 points per game … the Trojans own a 15-6 all-time record against the Wolves.

Oct. 18 — Sequim at Port Angeles, 6:30 p.m.

Notes: The Wolves battered Port Angeles in Sequim last year in a big 46-6 homecoming win … that was Sequim’s fourth straight Rainshadow Rumble win … the Roughriders struggled on offense last season, scoring less than 13 points per game on average in 2018 … PA finished with three wins for the second year in a row, going 3-7 overall and 3-3 in Olympic League play to earn a district playoff berth … Fife beat PA 56-7 in that 2A district playoff game.

Oct. 25 — Hoquiam at Sequim, 6:30 p.m.

Notes: Sequim took their lone regular season defeat to Hoquiam last season, falling 42-35 … several Wolves players have mentioned being eager to “set that right” against Hoquiam this season … Hoquiam went 10-1 last season, including a 4-0 record in the Evergreen 1A league … the Grizzlies won their first-round 1A state playoff game against Stevenson 49-0, then lost 45-6 to Lynden Christian in the second round.

Nov. 1 — Bremerton at Sequim, 6:30 p.m.

Notes: Sequim beat Bremerton 41-21 on the road last season, knocking the Knights out of district playoff contention … Bremerton finished 2-4 in the Olympic League, and 4-6 overall … the Wolves are 12-8 all-time against Bremerton, but are just 5-5 against them under Erik Wiker.

Junior wide receiver Ryan Porter stretches out to catch a pass over the top during an early practice session. Porter and fellow junior Michael Young will be expected to help fill the void of graduated WR Kyler Rollness, who caught 53 passes and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

Junior wide receiver Ryan Porter stretches out to catch a pass over the top during an early practice session. Porter and fellow junior Michael Young will be expected to help fill the void of graduated WR Kyler Rollness, who caught 53 passes and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

Sequim High School quarterback Taig Wiker drops back during offensive drills in an early practice session. “I learned a lot from Riley,” Wiker said of becoming the starting QB, “and I’m ready to take this on.” Wiker starred as a running back last year, but Wolves’ head coach Erik Wiker said that his son had always played QB previously, and that he is excited to see his dynamism under center. Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

Sequim High School quarterback Taig Wiker drops back during offensive drills in an early practice session. “I learned a lot from Riley,” Wiker said of becoming the starting QB, “and I’m ready to take this on.” Wiker starred as a running back last year, but Wolves’ head coach Erik Wiker said that his son had always played QB previously, and that he is excited to see his dynamism under center. Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

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