As first-year Cedar Park Christian head coach Manase Hopoi looks around the football field before practice, he fully soaks up the atmosphere.
“It’s a great day for football!” yelled one of the players about the sun-filled afternoon.
The fired-up Eagles placed first in the 1A/2A/2B North Sound Conference last season with a 5-0 record and notched an overall 7-2 mark.
“Just kind of keep things rolling, we’ve built a nice thing out here,” Hopoi said of his new job. “We build these young men to be their best and try their best, so they can carry on from when they become college students or even adults, parents, uncles or cousins.”
Hopoi takes the reins from Butch Goncharoff, who was named the XFL Seattle Dragons’ running backs coach and remains on board with the Eagles as their offensive coordinator, according to Cedar Park athletic director Todd Lundberg.
For the last two years, Hopoi was Cedar Park’s defensive line assistant and defensive coordinator, and he’ll man the latter position again this year in addition to leading the staff.
This season, Cedar Park has five seniors, 12 juniors and 11 freshmen in its gridiron ranks.
Senior running back Zach Wilkins (5-11, 200) is a hard-nosed rusher and “he finds a window and runs and doesn’t stop until he hears the whistle,” Hopoi said of the state’s top 1A/2A/2B ball carrier in 2018. One of Wilkins’ highlights last season was racking up 299 yards on 23 carries for three touchdowns of 48, 71 and 85 yards against Blaine.
Other top seniors are Kellan Cerrillo (6-2, 220), who plays halfback and cornerback and has known the Eagles’ offensive and defensive schemes since his youth; and returning starting quarterback Daniel Rickman (6-1, 220), who is an experienced player and leader and thrived in seven-versus-seven passing training over the summer.
On the defensive side of the ball, there’s junior tackle and 2018 all-conference first-teamer Elijah Brown (6-0, 215).
“He just likes to hit people, he likes to tackle. You just tell him what to do, and he gets it done,” Hopoi said of Brown.
Hopoi brings a wealth of experience to the Eagle football scene. He started at defensive tackle for four years at the University of Washington, played for the Minnesota Vikings for a bit and competed for eight years in the Arena Football League.
The coach tells his players to never give up and grow from each situation in order to excel and persevere in football, school and life.
CEDAR PARK CHRISTIAN Schedule
Sept. 6 home vs. Concrete, 7 p.m. (Juanita)
Sept. 14 at Rancho Christian (California), 5:45 p.m. (Moorpark)
Sept. 21 home vs. Vashon Island, 7 p.m. (Juanita)
Sept. 27 home vs. Fort Vancouver, 7 p.m. (Juanita)
Oct. 4 home vs. Granite Falls, 7 p.m. (Juanita)
Oct. 12 home vs. South Whidbey, 7 p.m. (Lake Washington)
Oct. 18 at Kings, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Nathan Hale, 7 p.m. (Northeast Athletic Complex)