Over the past few years, the South Whidbey High School football team trended in the right direction, and this fall the Falcons should continue along that positive path.
After winning just four of 29 games from 2014-16, South Whidbey played an independent schedule in 2017 against teams of similar size and talent, enabling the Falcons to revitalize their program by winning seven of nine games.
Last fall, South Whidbey returned to league play, competing in the new North Sound Conference, where the Falcons finished third with a 3-2 mark and an overall record of 6-4.
South Whidbey also reached the playoffs last year, falling just one game short of qualifying for the state tournament.
The Falcons lost only four players to graduation, but each received all-league honors and three were key skill players.
Not all of those with all-North Sound Conference honors went out the door. Six all-league players, all current seniors, return, including Wyatt De Mers, who was a first-team selection on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Other first team selections were offensive lineman Kobe Bolara and tight end Kole Nelson. Earning second-team honors were receiver Alex Black, offensive lineman Lewis Mattson and linebacker Aidan Coleman.
Other returning letter winners from a deep senior class are Dayton Birchfield, Kieran Birchfield, Larry Herrera, Bodie Hezel, Dexter Jokinen, Cameron Martin and Billy Rankin.
Returning junior lettermen are Kaidyn Brinks, Shelby Campbell, Brady Hezel, Justin Moberly and Jakob Snelling.
Sophomores who lettered are Zain Bolara, Tasman Dussault, Erik Haugen, Joseph Mattson, Ryan Morgan and Tyler Thrasher.
The gaps left in the skill positions by graduation will be filled by Nelson and Brady Hezel at quarterback and Bodie Hezel and Carl Henri Chapman at running back.
The strength of the offense is up front, as the Falcons boast a powerful line anchored by Kobe Balora and Lewis Mattson, according to Coach Mark Hodson. Joining the pair in the trenches will be Zain Balora, Joey Mattson, Snelling, Max Sharpe and Dylan Davis.
Hodson also expects the South Whidbey defense — with its bevy of returning starters — to be tough.
“I think our kids can compete for the top spot in our conference this year,” Hodson said, challenging perennial power King’s and last year’s title-winner Cedar Park Christian.
Overall, South Whidbey returns most of its starters from last year when the team finished with the second-best scoring offense and scoring defense in the conference.
“This group of seniors has really worked hard to make this team into a respected force in our football conference and should be ready to compete with the top teams,” Hodson added.
The Falcons begin the season with four non-league games, starting at Friday Harbor (6-3 last year) at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6. South Whidbey nipped the Wolverines 20-19 last year in one of three victories by a single point.
West Seattle (3-7), a 3A school, comes to South Whidbey for the Falcons’ home opener at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13.
After a trip to Chelan (4-6) and a home game with Concrete (4-6), South Whidbey starts North Sound Conference play at home with Sultan (2-7) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4.
The Falcons host rival Coupeville (3-6) at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18.
The other South Whidbey fall sports will be previewed in Saturday’s South Whidbey Record.