Oak Harbor is one of the Western Conference’s top programs, finishing among the league leaders each year over the past decade.
For head coach Jay Turner, it has been a matter of reloading and not rebuilding each fall. This year, however, it may take a little extra manpower to fill the gaps left by the graduation of more than 40 players from last season’s club.
The Wildcats finished second in the Western Conference 3A North in 2012 (3-1 league, 6-4 overall) and qualified for the playoffs.
Among the graduates were statistical leaders Ian Kolste, Fred Webster and JoJo Webster.
Kolste, who was second team all-league quarterback, passed for 1,376 yards and 15 touchdowns. No other Wildcat completed a pass.
Fred Webster rushed for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns, while his brother JoJo caught 45 passes for 730 yards and eight touchdowns. Both earned first team honors.
In all, seniors were responsible for 70 percent of the rushing and 76 percent of the receiving yards last fall.
Defensively Oak Harbor lost first team all-leaguers Isaiah Trower (back) and Jon Laningham (linebacker) and second-teamer Dakota Sinchak (back).
Turner, however, does have returning talent to build upon.
Back are first-team selections senior Sheyenne Sams (defensive back) and junior Tyler Adamson (defensive line); second team choices Matt Zafra (offensive line), Sams (running back), senior Troy Sturdevant (tight end) and senior Rhys Mattila (defensive line); and honorable mention picks Ray Quinday (offensive line), Jackson Constant (offensive line) and Julian Faralan (linebacker).
The list is heavy on lineman, and the big boys are the team’s strength on both sides of the ball, according to Turner.
Adamson terrorized Wesco QB’s last fall with eight and a half sacks; Mattila had two. Sturdevant and Faralan were tied for third on the team with 42 tackles.
Other returning lettermen in the line are Blaine Coleman, Ben Danielson, Tyler Dodd, Chris Humphries, Mark Johnston, Tommy Molitor, Eli Olson, Ford Orns, Zach Perry, Powell Tarrant and August Vogelman.
Sams is the leading returning rusher, running for 452 yards and five touchdowns last season. Faralan ran for 156 yards and two scores, and junior Dejon Devroe added 82 yards.
Faralan is the top returning receiver, catching eight balls out of the backfield for 203 yards. Tight end Sturdevant had four catches for 45 yards.
Other returning lettermen runners and wide receivers are Anthony Alexander, Kennan Davila, Zach Jones, Isiah Rennes, Nathanael Stanford and Kekai Tarrant.
The quarterback battle includes last year’s junior varsity starter Clay Doughty and converted linebacker Mike Laningham.
Turner said, “Both are very hard working kids with great attitudes.”
Key newcomers, Turner said, are Dyllan Harris (wide receiver/defensive back), Savion Passmore (running back/defensive back) and Tanner Walker (running back/linebacker).
The team’s weakness, Turner said, is its inexperience at the skill positions.
“We are also a very young team this year with a number of underclassmen starting and playing a lot,” he added.
Marysville-Pilchuck, last year’s Wesco North champ, is the team to beat again this year. The Tomahawks return first-team, all-league players quarterback Jake Luton and running back Austin Joyner. Joyner, one of the country’s top junior backs, average over 14 yards per carry last year and torched Oak Harbor for 260 yards.
After M-P, the teams in the Wesco North are similar – a little experience and a handful of newcomers – Turner said.
Oak Harbor was picked to finish second behind Marysville-Pilchuck in a recent coaches’ poll.
Though inexperienced, this year’s team, Turner said, is “a great group of kids to coach.”
He added, “They are hard working and are extremely coachable. The coaching staff is really enjoying working with them. We are all excited to see what happens on Friday nights.”
Oak Harbor opens on the road, traveling to Snohomish at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6. Arlington comes to Oak Harbor at 7 p.m. next Friday, Sept. 13, for the home opener.