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Bremerton High School football player Kyle Kennedy having breakout season
When he walked off the field last month following his team’s season-opening loss, Kyle Kennedy had a hunch.
“I knew it was going to be a good year for us,” said Kennedy, a running back on the Bremerton High School football team.
Why was Kennedy so confident following a loss?
He carried the ball 31 times for two touchdowns and a career-high 213 yards, nearly leading his team to victory in a 20-18 defeat against Foster High School.
Kennedy has scored 12 touchdowns and eclipsed the 200-yard rushing mark five times in six games this season, rushing for an Olympic League-high 1,167 yards and leading Bremerton to a 3-3 record, its best start in eight seasons.
Under sixth-year coach Nate Gillam, the Knights enter Friday’s 7 p.m. contest at Kingston High School with a chance to make the playoffs. Bremerton will finish with a winning record if it wins two of its final three games.
“Our success really has nothing to do with other teams,” Gillam said Tuesday. “If we play like we’re capable of playing, we’re a pretty darn good team.”
The two-way athlete — he also starts at middle linebacker — is having an MVP-type season after posting modest numbers most of his high school career, averaging nearly eights yards per carry.
Kennedy had never rushed for more than three touchdowns in a season or surpassed the 200-yard mark in a single game before 2010.
Now he’s scoring touchdowns and chewing up yards at a better clip than any player in the league. Kingston’s Lou Hecker, who has rushed for 978 yards and nine touchdowns and on Friday will line up opposite Kennedy, is the league’s second-leading rusher.
Kennedy attributes his success to Bremerton’s offensive line, four seniors and a junior making up the starting unit.
There is more chemistry than ever between the running back and his blockers, Kennedy said, due in part to this being their third full season playing together. The players also are becoming more comfortable in the I-formation, Gillam’s offensive scheme that relies heavily on the running game.
“I trust those guys 100 percent,” Kennedy said.
The starting linemen are seniors Max Hayes, Aaron Nagle, Shaun Hall and John Huntwork and junior Michael Stevens. Some of them have played together since Pee Wees, and all of them take pride in Kennedy’s success.
Their job is to create running lanes for Kennedy — and then get out of his way.
“It’s scary,” joked Hayes, the center. “Sometimes it feels like he’s going to trample us.”
Kennedy is 5 feet, 10 inches and 205 pounds, but has lost about 30 pounds since last spring, improving his speed, footwork and stamina. The running back was close to 240 at the beginning of spring camp, Gillam said.
Now he is as durable as ever, absorbing blows from linebackers and delivering them on both sides of the ball. Kennedy is Bremerton’s second-leading tackler on defense.
“He used to take a hit and would have to sit out a play or two,” Gillam said. “Now we can keep him out there a little more.”
With three games to play, Kennedy and the Knights are aiming to finish 6-3. The squad has a chance to make the playoffs, too, but a lot must fall into place for that to happen.
As the lone Class 3A team in the 3A/2A Olympic League, Bremerton faces a unique set of requirements to qualify for the postseason.
The Knights are competing with a trio of 3A teams from the 3A/2A Seamount League — Kennedy Catholic, Highline and Hazen high schools — for two playoff spots. The berths don’t automatically go to the two teams with the best record.
Instead, Bremerton and the Seamount teams earn one point for victories against 2A clubs and one-and-a-half points for victories against 3A opponents. The Knights don’t face another 3A team this season.
Kennedy (5-1) is in position to clinch the top seed, meaning Bremerton must edge out two schools for one slot.
Gillam has done the math and believes his team must win its final three and hope for Highline to lose one of two. If both teams win out, Highline (4-2) would finish with six-and-half points to Bremerton’s six.
If Bremerton loses once, Highline must lose twice. Four of the Olympic League’s seven 2A teams will advance to the playoffs.
“It’s kind of a hairy deal,” Gillam said. “It’s a hokey system.”
Bremerton faces Olympic High School Oct. 23 and North Mason High School Oct. 29 following Friday’s contest against the Buccaneers.
Kennedy believes he will conclude his career with three wins in as many games and finish the season with at least 1,600 rushing yards.
And with the team at 3-3 and winners of its past two thanks to his running, after nearly a decade of last-place finishes and lopsided scores, don’t tell Kennedy it can’t happen.
Even if it’s just a hunch.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished something because I’ve helped the program grow,” Kennedy said. “And we have a lot more potential.”
Here’s how Kyle Kennedy has fared through six games:
Sept. 3: 31 attempts, 213 yards, two touchdowns (L 18-20, Foster)
Sept. 10: 23 attempts, 231 yards, three touchdowns (W 53-22, Decatur)
Sept. 17: 35 attempts, 204 yards, one touchdown (L 7-27, Port Angeles)
Sept. 24: 18 attempts, 32 yards, one touchdown (L 14-48, Sequim)
Oct. 1: 30 attempts, 228 yards, two touchdowns (W 35-7, North Kitsap)
Oct. 8: 11 attempts, 259 yards, three touchdowns (W 60-0, Klahowya)
* Stats provided by Jim Portune, www.bremertonfootball.com.