Improvement name of Knights’ game

Bremerton football coach Nate Gillam, entering his fourth year at the helm, addresses his players at the end of practice on Wednesday. - Aaron Managhan/staff photo
Bremerton football coach Nate Gillam, entering his fourth year at the helm, addresses his players at the end of practice on Wednesday.
— image credit: Aaron Managhan/staff photo

Bremerton seeking to add to win total in Gillam’s fourth season.

Bremerton football coach Nate Gillam spent the closing moments of Wednesday’s practice driving home the importance of not quitting mentally when the challenge gets tough. Gillam, in his fourth season at the helm, knows the lesson all too well, compiling just a 2-28 record. It’d be easy to just give up and walk away.

But that’s not Gillam.

“My perspective is I’m not in a rush to get out of here,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of vested interest here in Bremerton. And I’m not done yet.”

The Bremerton player-turned-coach knows his team was better than the 1-9 record it posted last season, finishing with several narrow defeats. Bremerton lost its opener with Klahowya 28-27. They fell in a 55-44 shootout against Port Angeles. Overall, the Knights put up 21.9 points per game, the second-straight season they’ve topped 20 per contest.

“We should have been better than 1-9,” Gillam said. “Especially with the ability of players we had like Jamiere Abney and Chris Martindale and those guys.”

Abney led the Knights’ attack a year ago, rushing for 1,155 yards and 12 scores. Martindale was the team’s top defender, racking up 99 tackles and a sack, an interception and two fumble recoveries. Other key graduated seniors included tight end Richard Kendrick, running backs Jamaree Wells and Alex Griffin and linemen like Glen Calnan and Joe Quinones.

“I love those guys,” Gillam said. “Those guys were kind of my very first sophomore group. Those guys had the heart but they didn’t have the leadership. It was no fault of their own. We realized as a coaching staff that we have to foster and build that leadership.”

Which makes this a very key year for Gillam.

“This is the first group that have only had me as a coach,” he said. “They don’t have any other reference. That alone takes some steps forward for us.”

Gillam and his staff are opted not to cut players previously in order to simply try to get numbers up for a program that’s had just one winning season since advancing to state in 1993. But after seeing a lack of discipline make the difference in some of last year’s close battles, Gillam said he’s challenging his players to take the next steps both physically and mentally.

“We’re a little small on numbers, but they’re a great group,” he said. “The kids have really risen to it. The kids really bought into the fact that if you’re here, you’re here.”

Which goes right along with what Bremerton’s been trying to do school-wide for the past four years.

“There’s good kids here,” Gillam said. “It’s a team thing. And I like working with (athletic director) George (Duarte). George is on that same dial. We’ve got some plans to get Bremerton back where we want it to be.”

The Knights lost about 20 seniors off last year’s roster, meaning opportunities will be there for players to step up and make an impact.

Returning senior quarterback Jacob Belden will again head the offense a year after posting 1,135 yards through the air to go with 13 scores and 15 picks. He’ll have top target Dimitri Alston back as well, who caught 16 passes for 376 yards and four scores.

Linemen AJ Angle and Troy Miles will be counted on in the trenches. Travis Storey, Tarrick McGee and Michael Powell are two more the Knights will look to not only for their play (Powell was the third-leading tackler last season with 52, co-leading the team with three sacks), but also as leaders.

“We’re asking them to step up in a leadership role, not a cheerleader role,” Gillam said. “We’ve got a little pride. We need to start playing to our level.”

Andres Garcia, a late comer last year, will be back as a defensive stop gap. Josh Koets, who turned out a sophomore but didn’t play last year, is back for his senior season as well. Others include back-up quarterback Billy Davenport and guys like Sean Moore and Dan Rahm.

With practices going well, Gillam said the team’s booster club has grown considerably.

“They’ve really been helpful in those two-a-days,” he said, mentioning they’ve been providing food and drinks for the players during the practices. “They put forth a lot of effort.”

With Peninsula defecting to the South Puget Sound League and North Kitsap joining the Olympic League after dropping down to 3A, the Olympic League’s 3A schools will team up with the Western Cascade Conference for football, meaning the new league will include the Knights, Olympic, North Kitsap and Port Angeles will now battle for a league title — and one of four berths into the postseason — with Capital (Olympia), North Thurston, Timberline and Yelm.

“I like it,” Gillam said of the new opponents. “It’s gonna be tough but I think it will be good. We’re gonna have to play. They don’t mess around.”

But he knows the Kitsap-area teams also will be tough.

“The league up here is always good,” Gillam said. “They’re good guys to coach against. It’s good, positive rivalries.”

One such rivalry that’s grown has been between Bremerton and Klahowya, the 2A secondary school in Silverdale. Last year, the Eagles won 28-27 at home, taking an equally close 21-14 win in 2006’s season opener.

“It’s funny,” Gillam said. “It sort of has grown into somewhat of a rivalry.”

And while Gillam said he and his players have a lot of respect for the small Eagles, he also wants to see his Knights play up to their potential.

“We need to start playing at the level we can play at,” he said. “Klahowya is a good team. They’ve got that running back (Andre Moore) who’s scary. But we have to step it up. And we’re at home. That’s the biggest thing.”

The Knights battle Klahowya at home at 7 p.m. this Friday.

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