The No. 1 question heading into a new season is a simple one: how do the Hornets rebound from the loss of 26 seniors?
Coach Mark Gunderson, now in his eighth season at the Hornet helm, has an equally simple answer. It’s a response relating to the stability of the program as a whole. “With the culture we’ve built here, we reload, we don’t rebuild,” he said during a break from last week’s two-a-day practice sessions.
There’s plenty of room for optimism, Gunderson said, based on how his players performed during a four-day camp at Central Washington University and during a seven-on-seven passing tournament staged at Enumclaw High. As a group, he said, the 2019 Hornet squad is “young but talented.”
Offensively, fans shouldn’t expect a change in philosophy just because Kellen Kranc (a two-year starter at quarterback) and Nick Harberts (an all-league running back) departed the program due to graduation. The Hornets will continue their ground-and-pound tactic, always seeking to control the game clock and punish defenders at the line of scrimmage.
But there will be some new faces in the spotlight.
Taking over at quarterback is Cam Brauer, up from the junior varsity ranks. “He’s going to turn some heads,” Gunderson said, adding that the junior “hasn’t missed a beat” since taking the QB reins. When called upon to put the ball in the air, his most likely targets will be senior Ricky Portillo, junior Kayden Loop and sophomore Dylan Watterson.
The stable of running backs is headed by senior Jackson McCann. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior performed well enough at the CWU camp to land a scholarship offer from the Wildcats. “He moves,” Gunderson said, referencing McCann’s quickness and breakaway speed. Also expected to carry the ball are junior Royal Snyder, Ricky Bonthuis and Cameron Brazier, all juniors.
No offense will consistently move the ball without a solid line and Gunderson likes what he sees. “These guys, they’re going to be a fun group to watch,” he said.
Adding experience are a pair of returning starters, seniors Jackson Nielsen and Cash Jonas. Rounding out the line is still a matter of competition, but top candidates include seniors Cole Hildebrand and Garrett McGann, junior Lorenzo Luchi and sophomore Ryder Popke.
“They’re athletic and tough,” Gunderson said of his O-line, “and they buy into our philosophy.”
Defensively, many of the same players will be taking the field, although Gunderson likes the depth on this year’s roster.
The secondary could be the strength of the unit with Portillo, McCann, Watterson and Snyder ready to shut down opponents’ passing game. The linebacker corps seems solid and good-sized, with the 6-3, 190-pound Brazier joining newcomer Dylan DeRosier, a 6-2, 205-pound senior who played previously for the Eatonville Cruisers.
“It’s a scrappy, hungry group,” said Gunderson, who serves as defensive coordinator.
The third phase of the game, special teams, is highlighted by senior kicker Fulton Gunderson. After leading all North Puget Sound League 4A kickers in total points a season ago he was honored as the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year.