LANGLEY — It’s a shame Nat King Cole isn’t around to croon for the South Whidbey High School football team.
In a speaking voice-only version, South Whidbey’s coaches are spelling out the word that means most to them. Here’s a clue, it rhymes with — well, not a lot, and certainly not Cole’s “L-O-V-E.”
‘Ohana’ is back at Waterman’s Field for the Falcon football players. O is for oneness; H is for humility; and A is for attitude.
“The most important thing you can control on a football team is attitude,” said co-head coach and offensive coordinator Mark Hodson to his team during a recent practice.
The Hawaiian word for family has long been a mantra for South Whidbey football. As a family, it’s important each member does his part. And come Friday nights this fall, the Falcon family will need to block, tackle, run, pass and catch well individually for the team to succeed in its first season as a 1A school.
“We’re getting to our roots a little bit,” said co-head coach Andy Davis, who leads the defense.
Those roots will rely on a pair of running backs, a junior quarterback, tall and fast receivers and a swarming defense. In the past, South Whidbey was a run-heavy offense. With Nick French back as the starting quarterback and off what his coaches called an exceptional spring camp, look for these Falcons to take flight. South Whidbey’s coaches highlighted receivers Nick Bennett, Nate Hanson, Beck Davis, Kale Reichersamer and Cameron Coupe as guys who will get open, bring in the ball and gain big-time yardage. And all that talent will be showcased by French’s right arm and ability to run with the ball.
“He’s in a good spot right now,” Davis said. “He’s in charge.”
“It’s a good luxury to have.”
An emerging pass offense will complement a returning tandem of running backs, seniors Aaron Curfman and Pat Monell. The two co-captains could not be more different: Monell stands 6-feet tall and weighs around 225 pounds. Curfman is one of only a few Falcon football players this 5-foot-4 reporter doesn’t have to crane his neck up to see. But Curfman slips through tacklers’ hands and has a solid grip when he runs, rarely losing the ball last season as a fullback. Whereas Monell plows upfield, behind his offensive line, preferring to make contact rather than avoid it, much like the way he plays defense.
“I’m bigger than an average high school running back,” Monell said. “I’m a physical runner.”
“It’s physical every play, no matter what.”
Added Coach Davis: “I think Pat (Monell) is going to become one of the best players in the league.”
The two seniors play all three sides of the ball: offense, defense and special teams. Monell is tasked with being one of the first tacklers as a defensive tackle. Curfman, the second-year unquestioned defensive leader, plays middle linebacker. He calls out the formation, reads the defense and makes sure the other 10 Falcons are in their spots.
“Our expectations are to put out maximum effort,” Curfman said.
“It’s an organized group of chaos.”
Added Davis: “His confidence is at an all-time high. He trusts his eyes.”
Lots of effort will be needed to push past a 3-4 Cascade Conference record and a 4-6 overall record last season. South Whidbey was trounced by a few teams, and its six seniors would love to repay the favor. Monell highlighted the rematch with Cedarcrest, which ended in a 27-17 loss for the Falcons at home. Curfman, however, was focused on the season as a whole, not any one opponent.
“I only have 10 guaranteed games,” Curfman said. “I have to make the most of every snap.”
Added Monell: “We want to win as many games as possible.”
Preparation for the season began in earnest this spring when the team went to a camp at Eastern Washington University. Against schools of all sizes, some with more than 1,000 students compared to South Whidbey’s 450-plus, the Falcons held their own at something new: pass protection.
“We want to be competitive,” Davis said. “We want pace.”
Defensively, Davis said he was looking for lots of Falcon blue jerseys chasing the ball. The more bodies, the better.
“I’m looking for great get-off, low pad level,” Davis said of the defensive linemen. “And good decisions from the defensive backs.”
South Whidbey will make do with a smaller team, both physically and numerically. Though not for the offseason work of about 15 Falcons, who Davis said regularly trained in the high school’s weight room this summer. Time spent together lifting weights, running and conditioning benefit the Falcons in ways beyond health.
“You get a bond you just can’t describe,” Curfman said.
Added Monell: “The attitude’s better this year.”
The top of the Cascade Conference is wide open, players said. Perennial power Archbishop Murphy parted from its longtime head coach Dave Ward and Cedarcrest lots its star running back. Even with the fast-paced, pass-heavy offenses at Lakewood and King’s, the conference could be up for grabs.
“We have a young team, so we need to be full-force go,” Monell said.
Like so many years with a team whose ranks consistently shrunk the past decade, South Whidbey will rely on lots of young players. Only six seniors are on the Falcon football team from a group that numbered around 20 in its freshman year. Season after season, those numbers dwindled to the six that remain.
“It’s a sad thing when that happens,” Curfman said.
South Whidbey began its inaugural season in 1A Friday against last year’s third-place team from Chelan. The Goats lost to the eventual state champion Eagles of Connell High School in a semifinal game. South Whidbey’s other 1A opponents include Cedar Park Christain (Bothell), King’s and Coupeville.