Rain ushers in football season for Interlake Saints

Despite a torrential downpour that soaked the Interlake High School opening football practice, head coach Sheldon Cross could only smile while talking about his team’s chances at a playoff berth this season.

Team begins season with high expectations; inclement weather

Despite a torrential downpour that soaked the Interlake High School opening football practice, head coach Sheldon Cross could only smile while talking about his team’s chances at a playoff berth this season.

Not even a summer storm can dampen the optimistic outlook of a season anew.

“It’s a whole new look and a whole new season for us this year,” Cross said as the rain poured on his team during passing drills at Interlake Stadium. “And I think we have the guys to carry us to the postseason.”

As the Saints and the rest of the high schools around the state kicked off the first day of permissible football practices, Cross’s team, like many others in KingCo 3A, like their chances in the new-look conference. Except the Saints like it for a whole other reason: It doesn’t matter where in KingCo 3A Interlake ends up. Interlake will play as a 2A team in the 3A conference, and will participate in the 2A post-season. For the Saints, only winning matters, not conference standings.

And that might be a bit easier this year, as Skyline, Issaquah and Newport, three state playoff teams who went a combined 27-10, left KingCo 3A and joined a 4A conference. Now Interlake, which finished 2-8 last season, but showed glimpses of promise, looks at a depleted conference with only newcomer Juanita (who dropped from 4A to 3A) replacing the three departed teams.

“Now all of a sudden those teams go to 4A,” Cross said. “We don’t have to finish anywhere particular in KingCo, we just have to win as many games as possible to have a chance at the 2A playoffs and a play-in game.”

“We’re basically like the Notre Dame of high school football,” he continued, “and we’re used to playing the Issaquah’s, the Skyline’s, the Newport’s, all the top teams. We feel confident going to play even against the big boys in 2A.”

And with the offensive weapons the Saints return, they have every reason to think their offense can match that of the rest of 2A.

Interlake’s main threat this season will no doubt be running back Brett Kirschner, who as a sophomore was the third leading rusher in KingCo 3A last season with 879 yards and nine touchdowns, earning himself 2nd-team All-KingCo honors. That kind of season attracted plenty of suitors, Cross said, as half of the Pac-10 has already come by Interlake to check out the junior who the coach says has gotten “bigger and faster” during the offseason.

“Brett is going to absolutely tear it up this year,” Cross said. “If we can get him out in the open and get him going, he’s going to have a phenomenal year. He’s going to be really tough to stop; even some of the 4A schools we played in the spring scrimmage cowered at tackling him.”

Also returning on offense is junior wide receiver Dylan Amell, who led the Saints with 34 receptions for 436 yards and two touchdowns last season. Perhaps the two biggest changes on offense come on the line and directly behind it - the Saints lost offensive line stalwarts David Slingwine and Richard Silva to graduation, and will break in a new quarterback this season with sophomore Matt Malos.

Malos replaces Matt Allan, who will make the switch to wide receiver this season after earning All-Kingco honorable mention honors last season. Malos’ ability to scramble, Cross said, will give the Saints an added weapon in the new offense Interlake plans to run this season: A no-huddle, spread offense reminiscent of the offense the Washington State Cougars run.

“Matt’s going to add an element for us with his ability to run and pass,” Cross said. “He’s gotten better every single day this summer and he’s going to make some plays where you think ‘dang, that’s something that you just can’t coach. He’s going to keep the chains moving.”

Defensively, Interlake will be anchored by returning starters Evan Spading at middle linebacker and cornerback Chris Motley, who both earned honorable mention nods as sophomores a year ago.

The Saints kick off the season by hosting Ingraham High School of the Metro League Mountain Division on Sept. 5.

“All we need to worry about is every week, every game has got to be huge for us,” Cross said. “I don’t care what it takes, we just have got to get to a playoff game and we’ll see what happens.

“These guys are ready to turn this program around and get back to that order when Interlake was a state contender every year,” Cross said.

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