The Oak Harbor High School football team suffered some big losses — figuratively and literally — when the class of 2017 graduated.
Even with those hits to the starting lineup, the Wildcats return 19 lettermen, including six starters on offense and seven on defense, and should be a threat to win the North Division title.
Among the graduates were three of Oak Harbor’s best and largest players: Princeton Lollar, Sam Zook and D’Andre Bellamy.
Lollar, a 240-pound bulldozer, set a handful of school rushing and scoring records; Zook, a 6-6, 260-pound tackle, was a two-time, two-way all-Wesco selection; and the 250-pound Bellamy was an all-league choice at guard and linebacker.
Oak Harbor coach Jay Turner said the team’s strengths are its athletic ability and speed, the Wildcats will use those attributes to overcome the loss of the departed seniors.
One thing the Wildcats can’t match is the bulk of last year’s team.
“Our main weakness is our size,” Turner said, noting the Wildcats “will easily be the smallest” team in the conference along the offensive and defensive fronts.
The Wildcats do, however, return plenty of talent.
On offense, Oak Harbor returns its starting quarterback (Jordan Bell); its two starting wing backs (Taeson Hardin and TJ Hollins-Passmore); and three starting interior linemen (Ozell Jackson, Kamren Mebane and Weston Whitefoot).
Bell, who missed much of last year with an injury, completed 17 of 29 passes in four games for 215 yards and three touchdowns.
Hardin, the Wesco 100-meter champion in track and an honorable mention selection in football, averaged 10.1 yards a carry in 2016 and rushed for 680 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hollins-Passmore ran for 742 yards on 92 carries for an 8.1 average and seven scores.
Also returning Mac Nuanez, who rushed for 267 yards on 43 carries.
Tackle Jackson and center Whitefoot earned honorable mention honors last year.
On defense, backs Hollins-Passmore and Dorian Hardin and linebacker Nuanez were second-team, all-league choices. DB Mac Carr was honorable mention.
Nuanez will play on the line on defense this year, according to Turner.
Starting defensive lineman Jackson and linebacker Kyle Nichols also return for the ‘Cats.
Other returning lettermen are Joseph Arinaza, Hunter Bos, Troy Brodt, Will Danielson, Michael Fisken, Caleb Fitzgerald, Isaac Gomez, Aaron Martinez and Andrew Miller.
The Wildcats are perennial title contenders, and Turner said the success of the program is built on “dedicated players who believe in the program and believe in the philosophy of the team.”
Oak Harbor was 4-2 in the Western Conference North Division, good for third place, and 7-3 overall in 2016.
Turner said Ferndale, last year’s second-place team, is the division favorite, and defending champion Squalicum and Arlington will be tough.
Three of Oak Harbor’s first four games are on the road, starting with Mariner (7-4 last year) at Goddard Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1.
The home opener is the following Friday at 7 p.m. with Kamiak (4-6).