Vikings striving to overcome lack of depth and experience

North Kitsap High School football players work on drills Wednesday at practice. - Brian J. Olson/Staff photo
North Kitsap High School football players work on drills Wednesday at practice.
— image credit: Brian J. Olson/Staff photo

POULSBO — The North Kitsap High football team is moving to a new league for smaller schools this year, but that doesn’t mean things are getting any easier for the Vikings.

This fall, the Vikings enter the new, eight-team Olympic League in which all but one school falls into the Class 2A division. It’s a change from the Class 3A combined Olympic/Western Cascade League the Vikings spent the past three years in. Teams in that league included Bremerton, Olympic, Port Angeles and Olympia-area schools Yelm, Timberline, Capital and North Thurston.

The Vikings struggled last year against larger programs from the Western Cascade side of the league, losing by wide margins to Timberline, North Thurston and Capital high schools, and beating Yelm by a touchdown. North Kitsap finished 2009 with a 4-5 record.

The 2A Olympic League keeps the Vikings closer to home and pits them against smaller schools. The new league includes Kingston, Klahowya, North Mason, Olympic, Port Angeles, Sequim and Bremerton high schools. Bremerton is the only Class 3A school in the league.

Despite the apparent advantage in taking on smaller schools, North Kitsap has plenty of obstacles to overcome this fall. Chief among those challenges is the dearth of experience on the Vikings’ roster. Just 12 of the 90 players who tried out this year are seniors.

“We’ve got to get our young kids up to snuff,” head coach Steve Frease said. “I think it’s just getting their confidence up and coaching them up.”

Helping Frease build up that confidence is quarterback Alex Nettleton, who returns this fall as a senior and second-year starter. As a veteran of the squad, Nettleton knows his teammates will expect guidance from him and his fellow seniors.

“I always looked at (seniors) to lead,” Nettleton said. “With there not being very many, it’s going to be kind of hard. We need to get the underclassmen hyped up.”

Another hurdle for the Vikings may be their running game. A crop of talented running backs graduated last year. Would-be starter Jordan Hadden will miss the first few weeks of the season with a broken hand, forcing others to fill in.

“I think we’re running backs by committee,” Frease said.

Giving the Vikings confidence is the team’s dedication. Fifty players went to a football camp at Whitworth University in Spokane this summer.

“Because we did that, we’re significantly ahead,” Frease said.

Frease said the team’s desire to improve is evident in practice.

“I’m pleased with the progress. The kids are attentive and they’re working hard,” he said. “It’s been a long time since we won a league title, and I know these guys want to change that.”

North Kitsap opens the 2010 football season at home Sept. 3 against Bainbridge High. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

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