For new coach Ray Roberts the rebuilding of Lake Washington starts as any rebuilding would, at the foundation.
“You’ve got to get some things in place before you start picking up more wins,” Roberts said. Roberts is focusing on the players themselves first, not just what they do on the field. Instilling knowledge and understanding of the game, making the players strong members of the community and lighting the competitive fire. Once that happens, the wins will follow.
Roberts is the third coach in the past three years for the Kangs, and the effects are obvious. The team went from 8-2 in 2004 to 0-9 last season, and in a rough KingCo 4A league there aren’t any passes given for teams trying to rebuild.
The Kangs nearly picked up their first win of the season in the opener against Mercer Island on Sept. 5, but fell 7-6.
Roberts said three or four costly mistakes turned the tide of the game. Of those, the two most glaring were an interception at Mercer Island’s one-yard line and a second-half touchdown was called back because of a holding penalty.
Lake Washington was leading until Mercer Island came out in the second half with a long scoring drive that took eight or nine minutes of game clock and was mentally taxing for the Kangs.
“That drive took the fire out of our defense,” Roberts said. “We were in the right places in that game. We just need to make the right plays.”
On offense this season, Lake Washington will have a run-first approach both because of Roberts’ personnel and his preference. The Kangs rushed the ball well against Mercer Island, going for 176 yards on 38 attempts.
“You can’t ask a team to play physical, then drop back and pass the ball a lot,” Roberts said.
Junior running back Matt Hanson is the centerpiece of the offense. He led the team with 110 rushing yards on 23 attempts, and he scored the team’s only touchdown. Hanson rushed 66 times for 375 yards and a touchdown last season.
Hanson has the speed – he ran at the 4A state meet in the 200-meter dash. He simply hasn’t been able to stay healthy enough to make a huge impact. After watching Hanson play in the summer while recovering from an injury, Roberts said he was “pleasantly surprised” by his running against Mercer Island.
He said the passing game is developing but it’s hard to expect the players to adapt to a pro-style passing game when they’ve been playing in a wing-T system with two different coaches the past two seasons.
When it comes to senior quarterback Eric Folkers, Roberts can’t say enough about the way the quarterback approaches the game mentally. “I just wish he’d been in more of a pro-style offense before. He’s smart, heady, just a good high school football player. He’s an extension of me on the field.”
Folkers completed seven of 13 passes for 69 yards and an interception in the first game of the season.
Hanson and Folkers will help solidify the defensive backfield, along with seniors Spencer Wozeniak and Brad Duncan.
Senior Conner Akiyama will play roles at tight end and linebacker. David Oliver and Brian Sinclair will hold down both lines, with Oliver playing center and Sinclair playing tackle. Both will man the defensive tackle position on defense.
Tough going ahead
Starting with Eastlake last Friday night, Lake Washington hit a brutal stretch of games. In a row, the team has Eastlake, Skyline and Bothell, three of the top 4A programs in Washington.
“We’re going to play whoever they put in front of us,” Roberts said. “But they certainly didn’t make it easy for us.”
Roberts and his staff are working hard to have a closer relationship with junior football programs in Kirkland. He said eventually he would like the teams to start doing the same sort of things the Kangs do so the players can be more prepared as they rise through the ranks.
“We definitely have plans to try to reach back and cultivate those relationships,” he said. “Look around at all of the good teams in Washington, it starts with the younger kids in the program.”