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Football preview: Federal Way has the look of a state title contender
Expectations are high around the Federal Way High School football program this fall.
But that is just what goes along with returning 14 starters from a team that rolled through the South Puget Sound League unbeaten last season, including a handful of possible Division-I recruits for longtime head coach John Meagher.
“Our goal is to win state,” said the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Rod Jones, who is getting looks from several college programs. “We want to be better than last year.”
For what it’s worth, several preseason prognosticators have the Eagles ranked as one of the top-five teams in Class 4A and as the favorites to repeat their SPSL South title. Federal Way rolled through the regular season a perfect 10-0 before losing in the first round of the Class 4A State Playoffs to Eastlake.
Jones is joined on the college recruiting radar by wide receiver Mike Tate, linebacker Albert Havili, defensive back D’Londo Tucker, wide receiver Marcel Morris, defensive back J.J. McNeal and running back Zeek McNeal.
“Expectations are high this year,” Jones said. “Which is good.”
Just like last season, the Eagles will count on an extremely fast and hard-hitting defense. In 2011, Federal Way had, by far and away, the best defense in the league, giving up a grand total of 105 points in nine regular season games.
But Federal Way will be without the services of three first-team, All-State defenders from a season ago in D.J. May, Uso Olive and Jordan Pulu. May and Olive are both playing at Wyoming and Pulu is at Eastern Washington.
“We did lose three star players, so it’s going to be different,” senior Albert Havili said. “But I still think we are going to be better than last year.”
Federal Way will count on its two thumping middle linebackers — Jones and Havili — as well as a fast defensive backfield, led by Tucker, J.J. McNeal and Aaron Persinger. The defensive line will be anchored by 6-foot-3, 295-pound junior Jay-Tee Tiuli.
“We are going to be real good,” said Tucker, who was a first-team, All-SPSL pick last year, along with McNeal. “A real good defense.”
The Federal Way offense should also be potent. Senior Evan Elliot will have plenty of weapons to throw and hand-off to. The most explosive will be Tate. The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder finished with nearly 300 yards receiving and three touchdown catches, but constantly required double teams. As a sophomore, he caught 45 passes for 645 yards and four touchdowns.
Tate already has scholarship offers from Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Portland State. But the receiver isn’t planning on making any commitments before the season starts.
“I took a few unofficial visits and plan on taking my official visits this fall,” Tate said.
The Eagles’ offense also will count on Jones at fullback and a pair of speedy running backs — senior Zeek McNeal and sophomore Chico McClatcher. Tucker will also be a do-everything guy, playing wide receiver, quarterback and running back and Morris is also a deep threat at receiver.
The biggest question mark might be the offensive line. Havili is the lone returning starter up front for Federal Way.
The Eagles jump right into their SPSL South schedule with a home game against Rogers Aug. 31. Federal Way’s stiffest tests might come in Week 3 when they host Graham-Kapowsin Sept. 13 and a season-ending trip to Curtis on Oct. 26.
“We are going to shock the state with how good we are,” Tate said. “During my sophomore and junior seasons, we were looked at as underdogs.”
For the first time in the history of the football program, the Raiders advanced into the postseason last year and finished the season 5-5. But head coach Dean Peck lost several of the key players from that team. Jefferson returns only four starters on offense and four on defense.
The biggest of those losses will be K.W. Williams. Last year, Williams led the SPSL in rushing yards with 1,282 as a quarterback. He also became the third QB in SPSL history to rush and pass for over 1,000 yards. He finished with 1,111 yards passing and 11 touchdowns. In total, Williams accounted for 26 touchdowns in nine games.
Junior Niko DelaCruz, who played tailback last season, will take over the quarterback duties and also is one of TJ’s better defensive backs.
Other returners include two-way starter Kyle Dougherty, who plays wide receiver and defensive back, 6-foot-2, 230-pound lineman Michael Burt, wide receivers Phillip Cuadros and Paul Pinkney, linemen Dabrian Taylor and Geoff Lucas and linebacker Shane Seuame.
The Raiders open on the road against the defending SPSL North champion Kentlake Falcons Aug. 31 at French Field. Kentlake, along with Kentwood, Tahoma and Auburn, are early-season favorites to snag the North’s four postseason berths.
The Titans had a disappointing season last year, finishing with a 2-8 record in the SPSL South. But first-year head coach Darren McKay has infused some life into the program after being hired by Beamer earlier in the summer. McKay comes to Beamer after coaching Gig Harbor for the past 12 seasons.
Offensively, McKay brings back only two starters from last season and will install his new speed offense.
The Titans will be counting on three running backs during the season, including 5-11, 240-pounder Chris Fa’amalele, Brody Martinez and senior Caleb Waller. Wide receiver Adrian Shocks and tight end Meilo Tauala will provide yardage through the air and senior Milo Loving Williams returns on the offensive line for the Titans.
Defensively, Beamer will be led by its linebacking corps of Loving Williams, Fa’amalele and Meilo Tuaula. Also returning for the Titans’ defense are linebacker Archie Ioramo and defensive backs Marcus Schimmelfenning and Shocks.
The Titans open their season on the road against the Puyallup Vikings on Aug. 31 at Sparks Stadium.
The Gators open up their season on Aug. 31 on the road against Wilson in a non-league game.
Decatur finished the 2011 season 4-5 in the rugged SPSL 3A Division.
No other information was provided.