Sports

There's a new gridiron in town

"BREMERTON - Mike Coe was burning. Tony Covert was burned out.There hardly seemed to be a common ground.But then came the West Sound Orcas. The two former area prep football players - Coe at North Kitsap, Covert at Olympic - suddenly became unlikely teammates.Their motivations for joining the fledgling Northwest Football League franchise couldn't have been more different. Coe, 20, a 1998 NK graduate, knew he missed playing football and had been looking for an opportunity almost from the day he played his last down as a Viking. Covert, 21, walked away from the game after his last OHS game and never looked back, graduating in 1997 and entering the working world.And yet, when when the Orcas opened their season May 27 at Bremerton Memorial Stadium against the King County Jaguars, both were starters on the offensive line which also included Bremerton grads Jim Hyde and Joe Maxey. They were 300-pound bookend tackles, on opposite ends of the line, from opposite ends of the spectrum.I don't really know why I decided to play, says Covert, a lifelong Bremerton resident and former All-Olympic League lineman at Olympic who now works for a wholesale florist in Port Orchard. I had just kind of lost interest in football. But when this started, I decided, 'What the heck?' and came out to give it a try.His attitude about the new team was in stark contrast to Coe, who says he missed absolutely everything about being on a football team.I jumped at the opportunity, says Coe, who attended classes at Olympic College and currently works at a Suquamish restaurant. I missed the friendships, the working together as a team, everything. This seemed perfect.It seemed just as good to Hyde, who had just finished his college career at Central Washington University the previous season. He had mulled opportunities in several arena football leagues, but the advent of the Orcas allowed him to play his football, and stay at home.Man, this was right in my back yard, says Hyde, a 1993 Bremerton grad who played two years at Walla Walla Community College before moving to Central, where he was all-conference as a senior. We're playing on the same field I played my high school ball on, with some of the same guys.Covert, who also wrestled and competed in track at Olympic, says absence definitely made his heart grow more fond of the game he thought he'd stepped away from.I didn't realize how much all that - the team, the working together - meant to me, he says. That's why I came back.Under offensive coordinator Robert Mulligan, a veteran line coach, the Orcas' linemen have quickly melded into a unit that was able to dominate scrimmage in the team's first two games. Three weeks ago in a 31-0 victory over the Oregon Panthers, Bremerton's Todd Lewis and South Kitsap's Elkanah Montgomery ran wild behind a line that tore huge holes in the Oregon defense.The coaches pulled out a lot of stuff we all knew from high school and college, Covert says. We started simple, and now they're working in some more complex schemes.Mostly, though, it's as Hyde says. The linemen have come together quickly as a unit, with old friendships resuming and new ones forming.We're a tight-knit group, he says. That's how a good offensive line should be.Their motivations for playing have nothing to do with money. The Orcas don't pay their players. Any money the organization makes goes into community athletic programs.A few players have aspirations at accelerating their careers to European pro football or the arena leagues. Some, like Coe, still entertain hopes of playing college ball. Mostly, though, the playing is the thing for the Orcas - even those toiling in the most glamorless part of the field, the trenches.That's what makes us linemen, Covert says of the thankless job. We do it just to do it. I like the community aspect of this team, too. Living in Bremerton all my life, it's nice to be able to play here again.With a self-conscious grin, Coe adds, And there's that satisfaction of being able to pound on somebody, and have it be legal.He laughed, and Covert - his new friend and teammate - laughed with him. A little humor between bookends. "

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