Knights face uphill battle

For the Newport Knights, it seems the 2008 football season will be all about answering questions.

Newport joins new-look KingCo 4A;

For the Newport Knights, it seems the 2008 football season will be all about answering questions.

How will Newport adjust to the jump from KingCo 3A to KingCo 4A?

How will the Knights replace the loss of their entire offensive backfield?

How will Newport make another run to the playoffs with just two returning starters on either side of the ball?

Head coach Mike Miller has heard the questions. Now, it’s all about answering them in what may be the state’s toughest 4A conference.

Newport, along with Issaquah and Skyline, the defending 3A state champions, made the leap from 3A to the new-look 4A league. The Knights, Eagles and Spartans will join with Redmond, Eastlake and Garfield to form the six-team Crest Division.

“There are no breathers this year,” Miller said. “You have to be on your ‘A’ game from start to finish the entire season. You are tested all year.”

It certainly will be a challenge for the Knights, who are replacing two of the most productive backs in school history in Collin Bennett and Blake Gibbs, All-KingCo players who helped Newport go 7-4 and reach the state playoffs for the first time in years.

Bennett, the Bellevue News’s Athlete of the Year last season, rushed for 531 yards and seven touchdowns, while Gibbs went for 812 yards and eight scores. Add that to the fact that Newport also graduated Bobby Wenger, quarterback and first-team All-KingCo cornerback, and it looks like a tough task for the Knights to regroup.

“Those guys were real talented players and great leaders,” Miller said. “Losing them hurts, but you lose good kids every single year. The legacy they left was one of great leadership and we’re banking on the fact the the example they set last year sets the tone for this year.”

The only returning starters for Newport this season are lineman Jake Luwe, a senior, and Alex Karris, a junior.

“We might not have a lot of returning starters, but we have a lot of kids that have been in games and have a significant amount of playing time,” Miller said. “They might not have a ton of experience, but they have been in the games.

Miller said many positions are still up for grabs at this point, but the two certainties in the backfield are Jonte Giacomino at halfback and Ian Case at fullback.

“We have high expectations for these kids,” Miller said. “There are teams in are league that are vying to go back to the state championship. It’s definitely an uphill battle for us.”

There’s also another new facet to the season for the Knights; for the first team in years, Newport won’t face rivals Bellevue, Interlake or Sammamish this season as a result of the 4A jump.

“Those are some games we’ve played every year since the schools been open and it will be strange to not play them,” Miller said. “I don’t know how long until we’ll see those type of rivalries coming back.”

Each team in KingCo 4A will play eight regular season games (as opposed to nine in most other leagues) with the ninth game being a cross-over game for a state berth with the Crown Division of the league. As a result, Miller said, any team coming out of the KingCo 4A league should be more than battle-tested for state.

“It’s going to be a really tough league,” he said, “but if you can get out of your own league, you are prepared for playoffs.”

Newport kicks off its season with a non-conference game at Woodinville on Sept. 9.

Joel Willits can be reached at 425-453-5045 or at jwillits@reporternewspapers.com.

Newport 2008 schedule

9/5 at Woodinville

9/12 vs. Mercer Island

9/19 at Ballard

9/26 vs. Skyline

10/3 at Redmond

10/10 at Garfield

10/17 at Eastlake

10/24 vs. Issaquah