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Ready to show the naysayers

With a skilled offense, the Sparts are poised to surprise the Metro League.

A disappointing three-win, seven-loss season that earned the Spartan football team a share of last place in the Metro League’s Mountain Division didn’t impress head coach Andy Grimm’s peers, who’ve forecast a similar fate for this year’s team.

And that’s fine with Grimm.

“Motivation-wise, any time you’re low on the radar is great,” he said. “When the expectation isn’t there, we can come up and surprise some people.

“No matter what, O’Dea is on top. After that, it depends on the level of kids coming through for different programs.”

Grimm is heartened by a development shortly after the awards banquet last year, in which the team voted Grant Leslie and Zach Kornfeld as this year’s co-captains.

“The kids want to do well and were frustrated. They don’t want to lose,” he said. “So a week after the banquet, I got a letter from Zach and Grant. They were asking us as a staff to tell them what to do to get better. That was neat to see because it came from them.”

Since the coaches are limited in what they can do in the off-season, Grimm noted that it was up to team members to supply their own motivation for twice-weekly 6:30 a.m. workouts.

The schedulemakers also appear to have done right by the Spartans. After last night’s non-league game with North Kitsap, Bainbridge hosts Nathan Hale and Ingraham – two second-tier Sound Division teams – then travels to Sequim.

Matching last year’s win total by the time that division play opens at Seattle Prep the following weekend doesn’t seem unreasonable.

What Grimm terms “another carrot” is out there. It’s likely that Metro will have three berths in the state playoffs, rather than last year’s two.

“Last year, we knew if we didn’t beat O’Dea we were done,” he said. “We’d like to put ourselves in a position to make the crossover game (the season’s final game, matching the Mountain and Sound Divisions’ corresponding places), meaningful.”

In that scenario, the Spartans would play the Sound Division’s second-place team with a state slot at stake.

“The kids are confident in what they’re doing,” Grimm said. “They have the ability to execute at that level.

“We know that we can put some points on the board with Grant at quarterback, and we have kids capable of catching the ball.”

Leslie is clearly the focus of the offense after passing for more than 1,200 yards in seven games as a starter last year.

Terming him a “gunslinger,” Grimm said that “he’s a game-savvy kid. He makes plays with his scrambling. He looks like (former Denver Broncos quarterback John) Elway back there.

“It’s one of those non-taught skills.”

Grimm believes that Leslie is surrounded by plenty of two-deep talent at the skill positions.

At wingback, the Spartans boast a pair of seniors: Angelo Ritualo, a four-year veteran of the program, and newcomer Zach Mallove.

“Angelo’s probably our game-breaker,” Grimm says. “He can run with anybody, especially in the open field.”

As a starting cornerback on defense, the punter, placekicker, punt and kickoff returner, Ritualo is likely to accumulate more playing time than anyone else. Mallove will also spend considerable time on the field as he’s starting at outside linebacker.

Another senior newcomer is starting halfback David Vander Hoek. Veteran Zach Smith will also see lots of action at the position.

Chris North, who would have been in the mix, has moved to Utah.

Kornfeld gets the nod at fullback, with junior Carter Williams as the backup.

Senior Blake Jensen returns at tight end, supported by juniors C.J. Hall and Ryan Dardis.

The shuttling split ends are seniors Tyler Hannan – playing football for the first time since PeeWees – and Sean Callahan.

Conceding that the offensive line was a weak point last year and “still game-raw” this year, Grimm is optimistic about the guys in the trenches.

“I think we’ll be much stronger,” he said. “They are by far the strongest kids on the team and the best workers in the off-season.

“We identified them early and told them to compete for the jobs.”

The tackles are juniors Tom Hannuksela and Jake O’Malley and sophomore Gabe Culkin. Guards are senior Lucas Clark and juniors Josh Truan and Nathan Draper. Senior Andrew Kok and junior Elliot Thompson anchor the line at center. Kok and Truan are the heaviest at 240 pounds, but Grimm isn’t worried about their relative lack of size.

“In our offense, which features misdirection and trap blocking, it helps to have more mobile kids,” he said.

With the Spartans likely to put plenty of points on the scoreboard, one key to the season will be how they perform on defense.

With nearly everyone a two-way player, Thompson and Jensen will start at defensive ends. Truan and O’Malley are the tackles. Mallove and Hannan man the outside linebacker posts, flanking Kornfeld and Clark. The secondary features Ritualo and Callahan at the corners with Vander Hoek at free safety.

“I think the tools are there for us,” Grimm said. “The pre-season things don’t mean anything until we start playing. I think we should be in the hunt.”

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