A year of experience under their belts, the Cougars are now out to make their mark.
The Bothell High football team won a Class 4A state championship in 2014, but struggled last season and shocked their fans by missing the playoffs. Three of the four conference losses came by five points or less, including a three-point loss to Eastlake and a one-point loss to Issaquah on back-to-back weekends.
The championship squad was senior-heavy, to say the least, meaning that last season was a campaign filled with growing pains — lots of them.
Now, the varsity gridiron is more familiar.
“The things I did last year included some of the greatest learning experiences I’ve had in my career,” said junior quarterback Jacob Sirmon, who completed less than 60 percent of his passes last season. “Coming into this year has been an eye-opening experience because there’s no longer anything that’s a first opportunity. Everything’s been done before, so there’s no longer that ‘first’ feel in the moment where you’re testing it out on your own.”
— John William Howard (@JowardHoward) August 23, 2016
Bothell coach Tom Bainter is hoping an increased level of comfort will be the difference for the 6-foot-4, 215-pound quarterback this fall.
“The experience will help him and make him greater,” Bainter said. “We hope that translates into good decision making. He doesn’t need to take a play that is beat and make it into something. Sometimes the defense wins — throw the ball away. Live for another down.”
While the offensive pieces around Sirmon have certainly changed, the offensive line has been stellar through the first few weeks of practice. Sirmon specifically called out right tackle Nnamdi Iheke, center Lucas Jones and guard Jesse Sims: all big guys, but nobody over 240 pounds.
Sims was the only Bothell player to make the all-KingCo team last season, earning first-team honors. Sims also earned an all-KingCo second-team honor at defensive tackle.
“I love what our O-line is doing right now,” Bainter said. “I like the commitment they made in the offseason in the weight room and I like their understanding of the offense. They’re in good shape; they move well. They may not be really huge, but we’re strong and athletic, so I’m pleased with that.”
The Cougars certainly seem set at receiver, despite losing their top two targets from last season.
Kevin Liu caught nine passes for 182 yards and two scores last fall, and starred as a top-level sprinter in the spring, taking seventh at the Class 4A state championships. Daniel Johnson, a senior transfer from Mountlake Terrace, caught 22 passes for 544 yards for the Hawks.
Tight end Peter Davis, a big target at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, returns this fall after scoring twice last season. Da’Vicious Wilson, a light but speedy and extremely slippery junior, could also figure into the mix.
That’s not to say the Cougars won’t have questions to answer on offense.
“Where we’re a little thin is at running back,” Bainter said. “We graduated a few guys and that is an area of concern and question for us, but we’ll find somebody and get him going.”
With Damani St. John-Watkins gone, the load passes to senior Jalen Ford, another sprinter. Ford carried the ball 42 times last season, picking up 263 yards and two touchdowns. Behind Ford lies the mystery.
One answer lies in another transfer: Alex Indelicato, from Kamiak High School in Mukilteo. Indelicato was the leading rusher, with 123 attempts for 840 yards, in a pass-happy offense.
The Cougars are scheduled to begin the fall slate against Glacier Peak at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Pop Keeney Stadium in downtown Bothell.