Bothell High football team is a ball of energy heading into season

Push the “I want to” button, “make football your passion” and “go hard and grind.”

Those are phrases that Bothell High coaches directed toward their players during a recent practice, and the Cougars took the words to heart by shaking their heads and clapping their hands.

From the looks of things on the field that day, the Cougars were ready to dive into 4A KingCo action. They’ll start off with a bang Friday against Northshore rival and defending league champion Woodinville at 7 p.m. at Pop Keeney Stadium.

“I’m excited. I think it’s gonna be our biggest game this year, so we gotta get out there, we gotta play fast, play strong,” said Hunter Smith, a 6-foot-5 senior left tackle. “This year, we have a fresh O line and we have a really strong O line. I’m the only returning starter, but it’s fun to see all these guys come up and work their butts off.”

Last year, Bothell finished 5-2 in league and 9-3 overall and lost in the state quarterfinals. Head coach Tom Bainter, who enters his 18th season at the Cougars’ helm, said the team will need to stay healthy to keep its competitive edge intact.

This year, Bainter added, the team is down in numbers since North Creek High is now part of the Northshore landscape and fields its first football squad.

“You try to take all the guys on your team— this year, it’s 95 to (the) 155 it’s been in the past — and you try to make every single one of them buy into something greater than themselves — that’s team,” said Bainter, adding that the second key to success is effort. “If you can do those two things, which you’re capable of — they’re mental things that you can say, ‘I’m going to do it.’ If you can do that, then you’ll be as great as you can be.”

Smith, who’s been on varsity since his sophomore year, added that he’s learned that maximum mental focus and attitude is necessary to improve in both practice and games.

Jaelen Percival, a 6-1 senior tight end/linebacker, has seen players displaying more excitement, energy and love for the game thus far.

The three-year starter and 2016 first-team all-league linebacker had to look inside of himself to unveil his best effort.

“When I was younger, I would kind of like take reps off my sophomore year. Then coach always mentioned being 1-0 and making the most out of each rep,” Percival said. “I feel like that’s paid dividends (going) into this year, because I feel like I’m really the leader of the defense. I’m leading people and I’m doing 100 percent on each rep. I feel a lot better about myself.”

Other top returners that Bainter is looking forward to watching play their senior years are Jacob Sirmon, a 6-4 quarterback, three-year starter and University of Washington commit; Dylan Singh, a safety/wide receiver who has some Ivy League and Division III colleges checking him out; and Da’Vicious Wilson, a wide receiver/cornerback.

A sure-fire sign that Bothell players were going beyond the call of duty heading into KingCo play was when Sirmon and a few of his fellow captains did some extra sprints at the end of practice.

Sirmon — an Under Armour All-American — smiled and said they were happy to put in the additional work.

“Anything that can help us separate from our opposition. The best way to lead for us is leading by example. We want our team to be on board and we want to have each other’s backs. If they see us working an extra rep or an extra 53 or something like that, that just helps build confidence in the team and it makes us better, a little more conditioned,” said Sirmon, who was also courted by Alabama, LSU and a few others, according to Bainter.

From the tall receivers to the offensive line and beyond, Sirmon said players have been grinding it out all offseason and concluded, “I can’t think of a single weak link in our team as a whole, and we’re excited to see how this all fits together.”