During the offseason, we’ll check out one team per week that looks like a sure bet to be among the best in the nation for next fall.
This week’s team: Bellevue (Wash.)
Projected 2012 Preseason Ranking: Top 20. If quarterback and cornerback Tyler Hasty, who is headed to Oregon State, was coming back along with everybody else who is returning, the Wolverines would be a lock to be in the top 10 and contending to be the top team in the West. It’s been a rankings duel the past few seasons in Washington between Bellevue, the perennial champion in Class 3A, and Skyline of Sammamish, the perennial power in Class 4A. Bellevue won when the two powers played in 2011, so no guessing was needed.
Team Strengths: Coach Butch Goncharoff should have several running backs he can go to in his vaunted Wing-T offense. John Nguyen (5-9, 180) has had the most experience and is great at breaking tackles; Myles Jack (6-2, 215) has already received Pac-12 offers for his power and speed; while Ari Morales (5-10, 175) is versatile and can consistently get past the first line of defense. Another team strength is the return game, which was on display in the 35-16 win over previously unbeaten O’Dea of Seattle in the state final when Bishard "Budda" Baker (5-10, 170) ran back a kickoff for a score while Scott Whiting (5-9, 165) scored on a punt. On defense, linebacker Sean Constantine (6-2, 220) also is getting Pac-12 offers and is part of a potentially dynamite front seven. That unit includes Darien Freeman (6-0, 270), who should be one of the state’s top nose guards, along with defensive end Nick Santa (6-3, 225). The secondary features defensive backs Michael Carlson (6-2, 195) and Dakota Jones (5-10, 160).
Another Washington team to watch: It would be too easy to write up Skyline as a team to watch. Instead, we’ll try to think outside the box by choosing Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, Wash.). Sure, the Crusaders were only 7-4 last year and they lost 42-0 to Bellevue in the opening-round of the Class 3A state playoffs. But Bellevue is the class of the state and earlier in the season Eastside Catholic lost by just one point to the same O’Dea of Seattle team that played in the state final this past season. The Crusaders also figure to be a better team with most of their starters coming back, including quarterback Trey Reynolds (6-1, 185), who passed for 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Another plus is that coach Jeremy Theilbahr will be in his second season at the helm of the program, so the players should be more familiar with his methods and schemes. Theilbahr’s other top returnees are expected to include offensive lineman Christian Shigley (6-4, 230); defensive end David Hurdle (6-1, 215); linebacker Zane Allen (6-0, 195) and defensive back Markell Sanders (6-1, 175).