Saints ready begin title march

Saints running back Malcolm DeWalt will be reunited with his brother, Malachai this season. Malachai joins the Saints backfield after winning the NWFL MVP award in 2002 and thee league’s Offensive MVP award the past two seasons.  - Photo by Jesse Beals
Saints running back Malcolm DeWalt will be reunited with his brother, Malachai this season. Malachai joins the Saints backfield after winning the NWFL MVP award in 2002 and thee league’s Offensive MVP award the past two seasons.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

The West Sound Saints had the best record in their history on the football field last season, advancing all the way to the Northwest Football League’s championship game.

Unfortunately, it was a lousy year off the field for coach Steve McDaniel. The team’s new ownership last year helped bring talent, but brought plenty of turmoil as well.

McDaniel himself went through a divorce.

“Honestly, it didn’t even feel like going to a championship game,” he said.

However, once again, things have changed. McDaniel promises it is for the better.

“Things are gonna be done cleaner, we’re more organized,” he said. “My hope is to fill this team with talent and let Kitsap County know we’re for real and we’re a winning team.”

Two different sources have brought McDaniel boatloads of new talent, which should help them improve on last season’s 10-3 mark.

The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis arrived in Bremerton, bringing five new starters along with it. Six new Saints will miss the June 11 opener at Multnomah County because they will be graduating from Olympic High School that night and three more players will be at the ceremony to see relatives get their diplomas.

McDaniel will also be unable to attend the opener.

“If we can go down and get a win with just half a crew, that will say very good things for our team,” he said.

The Multnomah County Buccaneers have been a tremendous thorn in West Sound’s side. The Saints had a victory slip away from them in last season’s meeting in the final seconds. A blown coverage in the secondary allowed Multnomah to score on a deep pass and steal one on the Saints’ home turf. Two years ago, the Bucs pulled ahead of West Sound for a win with two minutes left to go in a playoff battle.

McDaniel said the Bucs are a foe he and his players know well.

“They’re a fourth quarter team,” McDaniel said. “They’re extremely quick and they like to put the ball in the air.”

He added that the Bucs have a new quarterback this season and have benefitted from the folding of the Oregon Panthers club by picking up some of their former players. McDaniel said Multnomah is the only team in the Northwest Football League the Saints have never beaten. They will get two chances this year, hosting the Bucs in their season finale.

The coach expects the Saints to compete well against their NWFL foes this season, particularly when they have the ball.

“There is more talent on my offense than ever before,” he said. “We have the most solid offensive line you’ll ever see at the semi-pro level. We’re going back to the championship game, we know that.”

McDaniel played his second team against the Northwest Avalanche in a preseason contest May 21, to see what his squad’s depth looked liked. The Saints won 23-7.

The Saints welcome an NWFL Offensive MVP tailback from the King County Jaguars, Malachai DeWalt, and a former starter at defensive tackle from Pacific Lutheran to this year’s team.

DeWalt graduated from Olympic High in 1995.

Also aiding the Saints was the offseason departure of the Eastside Hawks, who left the NWFL and moved to Everett to join the National Indoor Football League. With the Hawks out of the picture, the Saints have the upper hand in the NWFL. West Sound fell to Eastside 24-7 for the league title last season.

McDaniel said his roster size dwarfs those of most other NWFL teams.

“I don’t like to cut guys because the more bodies you have, the better practices you can have,” he said.

He expects to hold on to 57 players, suiting up 40-45 for games because of league rules.

McDaniel also sees the youth of his team as a plus, adding a number of 23- and 24-year-olds to the roster.

“This season we’ll start to solidify this football team with younger guys who are quick and get after it,” he said.

The coach wants his players to succeed off the field as well.

“I want these guys to go to college,” he said.

When McDaniel took over the head coaching job four years ago, it was important to him to instill discipline and stop fights on the sidelines and rampant cursing that permeated the team. The structure built up in the program has earned admiration throughout the league, he said.

Kenny Austin, who had great success with the Eastside Hawks and helped McDaniel coach the team last season, is gone. However, McDaniel took away some important lessons from his time with the program.

“I learned from Austin how to talk to people in the locker room, how to comfort them, and prepare them for a football game,” the coach said.

The Saints begin the season on the road June 11 against the Bucs before hosting the Oregon Thunderbolts on June 18.

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