’Cats prepare for title defense

To paraphrase Amos Alonzo Stagg when he said many years ago that winning the NCAA championship was a great accomplishment but the true challenge is successfully defending your title the next year, that is the task facing the Oak Harbor High School football team in 2007.

Last year the Wildcats finished 13-1 and defeated Bothell 21-14 in the Tacoma Dome to claim the class 4A title, but several key players off that team have graduated.

However, head coach Dave Ward, in his 17th season at the helm, has a number of veteran players returning to the roster and is confident the Wildcats will

have another strong team this year.

Among the returning players is senior running back Chris Valencia who led the team in rushing last season with 1,135 yards and scored 16 touchdowns. Valencia was named a second-team WesCo North All-Star on offense and a second-team all-star linebacker.

Also returning is the Wildcats’ leading pass receiver, senior Rodrick Rumble. Rumble caught 40 passes for 691 yards last year and led the team in scoring with 104

points. He was named a first-team WesCo North All-Star at receiver and was voted a second team all-state player.

“Chris hurt his ankle during the baseball season, but that’s healed

up fine and he is looking fresh and strong now,” Ward said. “Rodrick injured a knee at summer camp, but he is healing up and almost back to full strength.”

Other returning players include senior Jake Rouser who plays on both sides of the ball at tightend and defensive end and senior kicker Mike Johnston.

Rouser was voted a first team WesCo North All-Star at tight end and made the second team as defensive end.

“Mike is kicking the ball well. He is fired up and looks like he has a strong leg this year,” Ward said.

Senior Joe Raymond, a first team WesCo North All-Star, is returning at middle linebacker and he also is a starting offensive guard, and senior Michael Bressler is also returning to the starting lineup.

“We moved Michael from tight end to center this year and he is also one of our outside linebackers,” Ward said.

Other returning seniors are tackle/defensive end Tyler Elliott and wide receiver/safety Michael Bell.

Ward said senior Jake Ford started at defensive tackle last year and is also expected to play a lot on the offensive side of the ball this season.

“Jake is one of those seniors who is ready to step up this year,” Ward said.

The big change for the Wildcats this season is senior Johnny Encinas taking over the starting quarterback duties.

“Johnny looks real smooth at quarterback and he knows the offense well,” Ward said.

Juniors returning to the lineup include Bennett Richter, Devante Young and Chris Neumiller.

“Bennett is fighting for a lot of playing time on both sides of the ball and Devante started at cornerback for us last year. I expect he will also help us out on offense,” Ward said. “Chris is a much improved lineman and we’ve been working him at left tackle.”

One of the new players this season is senior Jordan Young.

“Jordan looks really good at safety,” Ward said. “He hasn’t played for a couple of years, and we’re really glad he decided to play football.”

Ward said he expects Lake Stevens to be one of the top teams in the WesCo North this season.

“They have a lot of speed and solid returning players,” he said. “Arlington returns some fast players as well and we’ll see them in our first home game of the season, and Snohomish is always tough and they’ll want to bounce back this year.”

Ward said the league is once again going to be very competitive.

“A lot of teams will be gunning for us, wanting to play their best game against the state champions,” he said. “We’re not going to have an easy game all year, it’s going to be get ready to play every week.”

Oak Harbor opened the season Friday, Aug. 31, on the road defeating Marysville-Pilchuck 37-27.

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