New-look league unfriendly to BHS

Bremerton quarterback Jacob Belden fumbles a snap during the Knights’ opening game 16-10 victory against Klahowya Sept. 5. The Knights (1-4) have since gone winless.  - Aaron Managhan/file photo
Bremerton quarterback Jacob Belden fumbles a snap during the Knights’ opening game 16-10 victory against Klahowya Sept. 5. The Knights (1-4) have since gone winless.
— image credit: Aaron Managhan/file photo

Bremerton football has some serious competition in the revamped 3A Olympic League, now the 3A Olympic/Western Cascade League.

Capital, Timberline, North Thurston, Yelm and former 4A North Kitsap have replaced North Mason, Sequim, Klahowya and Kingston to form the new-look league, which still includes Olympic and Port Angeles. The realignment ultimately separated 2A and 3A schools into two leagues.

The result?

Bremerton, Olympic and Port Angeles have combined to win zero games against the new teams, going 0-9 through Thursday.

While each team has its own set of issues, Knight coach Nate Gillam attributes his team’s early season struggles to key injuries and the mediocre football turnout he’s had over the past few seasons, making it difficult to develop a powerful, consistent program.

“One of our biggest challenges is getting kids out,” he said.

With no depth, a result of thin turnouts, Bremerton hasn’t been able to overcome injuries to skill position players such as running backs Kyle Kennedy, Andres Garcia and Travis Storey.

“Unfortunately for us, we’re pretty thin,” Gillam said. “Injuries have really nailed us.”

To combat injuries, a team needs depth. To establish depth, a team needs players. And for a team to have players, players must tryout. That’s the cycle Gillam believes Bremerton needs to establish.

While Pee Wee football in Bremerton is strong, Gillam believes there is a lapse between Pee Wee ball and high school ball causing fewer athletes to turn out at the secondary level.

“It’s just a matter of making those connections between Pee Wee and high school,” he said. “That’s probably the best thing to do.”

Establishing those connections, Gillam said, can put Bremerton football back on the map as the Knights of recent years have spent more time in last place than first.

“We try to get over to the (middle school) and keep contact with the Pee Wee organizations just to keep some familiarity. Kids need that that nowadays,” Gillam said. “If they don’t have a connection, kids won’t participate. This has been the hardest part of my coaching to change.”

An average of about 55 kids are turning out for BHS football each year, according to Gillam.

“We’ve kept pretty steady at that number,” he said. “That is pretty consistent over the past few years with a slight upward trend.”

Gillam, who has previous head coaching experience at Shorewood High School and Kamiak High School, said his relatively strict tryout policies, requiring players to participate in spring drills in order to play fall ball, and the high “commitment to contest ratio” of football, have contributed to lackluster turnouts.

“I have a pretty strict policy about turning out,” he said, explaining that players must “commit” about four practices each week while only playing in one game or “contest” each week.

“Football is a tough sport,” Gillam added.

Though Bremerton has recently been a doormat in football, it hasn’t always been like that. But Gillam said he believes many athletes today don’t know — or understand — that.

“We’ve been around for more than 100 years, and most of them were winning seasons,” he said. “Bremerton was a powerhouse. People seem to have forgotten that.”

Gillam remembers his time at both Shorewood and Kamiak, when his players weren’t necessarily the most talented, but played with a sense of urgency and a drive to win. The mentality translated to success.

“We didn’t have the athletes over there that we have in Bremerton,” he said. “(But) that forced our guys to play out of their comfort zone.”

The realigned league may help Bremerton find winning ways, as playing tougher competition will help the team improve.

Whereas in past years Bremerton rarely played teams outside the Kitsap Peninsula, it now faces them weekly.

“First of all, it’s good,” Gillam said of the realignment. “We’d gotten a bit insulated on the (Kitsap) Peninsula.”

By playing teams such as Capital, Yelm, North Thurston and Timberline, Bremerton is facing a whole new breed of competition.

“It’ll prepare us better for playing those teams. It also prepares us for the postseason,” Gillam said. “They (the new schools) have a bit of an advantage on us because they’ve played in tougher leagues.”

And the Knights (1-4, 0-3) are finally getting healthy on the field as Garcia returned last night against North Thurston. Results from that game were unavailable at press time.

As far as the “x’s” and “o’s” of the game go, Gillam believes the Knights — and his coaching staff — will be just fine.

“They haven’t done anything that’s super unheard of,” he said.

While the team searches for health, it will have a chance to get in the league win-column with games against old foes Olympic and Port Angeles still to come.

“We’ve struggled against some of the better teams,” Gillam said. “I’m hoping we can peak at the right time. We should hold our own.”

Capital shutout BHS 33-0 Oct. 3 to push the Knights’ losing streak to four games.

Bremerton looked to get back on track last night in the team’s homecoming game against North Thurston. Results from that game were unavailable at press time. BHS travels to North Kitsap for a 7 p.m. game Oct. 17.

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