Football season kicks off

Are you ready for some football? I guess I’m getting there, but not quite yet.

It just doesn’t seem right — running the Wing-T offense in 80-degree weather. They just don’t go together. When I think of the “ancient” run-oriented, play-faking, occasionally-passing offense, the term frozen tundra or the normal Puget Sound autumn downpour are the first things that pop into my head.

Football season it is. Wednesday marked the first official practice at high schools across the state, and now is when optimism reigns supreme — especially in Federal Way. The eighth-largest city in Washington, which now boasts four high schools, has never won a state football championship — despite producing some of the best individual players in the state year in and year out. The closest any team came was back in the 1970s, when Federal Way High School lost in the championship game.

Most of the optimism can be traced back to Decatur High School. The Gators return a solid core of players from last year’s 6-3 team and have a new leader in first-year coach Bill Heglar.

“It’s kind of like your first date with a girl,” Heglar said. “Everybody is a little bit nervous. It’s going to take a while because everybody does things a little different.”

The Gators also bring back one of the best all-around players in the state, who will be another Federal Way Division I recruit. Quarterback Darin Harris, a 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, is one of the most recruited players on the west coast and has already received scholarship offers from the University of Washington and Colorado, with more to come.

Last season, Harris was responsible for 1,856 yards of total offense. He ran for an amazing 1,238 yards — good for third in the South Puget Sound League South Division — from the quarterback position. He accounted for 19 touchdowns, 14 on the ground and five through the air.

“He is just a real joy to have around,” Heglar said. “He is a very modest, humble kid.”

Harris is listed as the 31st-ranked “athlete” in the United States by, one of the most respected recruiting Web sites in the nation. He is the only “athlete” recruit listed from the Pacific Northwest.

Heglar, who has previous coaching stints in Sumner, Bellevue and Seattle Prep, got some bad news this summer when running back/defensive back Tracy Ford transferred to Bellevue High to play for the defending Class 3A state champs. Ford moved into his mother’s home in Bellevue.

But the Gators return one of the better fullbacks in the league — senior Kyle Bressler, who rushed for 672 yards last season.

Wednesday also marked the inaugural practice at the new Todd Beamer High School — even though the Titans were forced to turn out at Federal Way Memorial Stadium because of capacity rules not allowing them to use the new Field Turf field. The Jeff Housman-coached Titans will play an independent schedule and open up Sept. 6 at home against Chief Sealth. Beamer will get to practice on-campus starting Monday.

Federal Way finished 6-2 a year ago under John Meagher, good for third place in the rugged SPSL South. But the Eagles lost a solid core of seniors, including skill position stars Andre Piper-Jordan and Anthony Dotson. Jefferson finished 2-6 under Kevin Hanis last year and lost All-City quarterback Jared Bronson and running back Michael Smith, along with 300-pound offensive lineman Aaron Gilbert.

The first football practices across Federal Way also brought with them the reality of kids having to pay to play high school sports. District administrators collected the $70 fee from players before they stepped on the practice fields, despite the Federal Way School Board delaying the vote on the 2003-04 budget until Tuesday.

“(Finance director) Sally (McClean), (superintendent) Tom (Murphy) and I discussed this and felt that we have the authority to collect fees prior to the vote,” said assistant superintendent Mark Davidson. “If the board does not support the collection of the fees as part of the budget, we will refund the money.”

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565,

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