Crusaders head coach Jeremy Thielbahr says a stronger schedule and more experience should better prepare them for a potential Bellevue rematch in the playoffs this year
The 3A state football championship has been the same story for the last two years – Bellevue handling Eastside Catholic in decisive fashion.
Bellevue won 52-20 last year and 35-3 in 2012. The Wolverines also ended Eastside Catholic’s postseason in 2011.
But the Crusaders learned from those losses, head coach Jeremy Thielbahr said. Eastside Catholic only had nine seniors last year, so he’s hoping the lessons of falling to Bellevue in the past can translate to success this season.
“Iron sharpens iron and they obviously have a pretty sharp piece of iron over there,” Thielbahr said of Bellevue.
Should Eastside Catholic face Bellevue again this season in the playoffs, Thiehlbahr is of the belief that the Crusaders will be more battle tested than ever.
Eastside will open up the season at home against Bishop Alemany of Mission Hills, Calif. This Alemany team lost to national powerhouse St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) in the CIF Southern Pac-5 semifinals.
Getting to face a team of Alemany’s caliber right off the bat is a test that Eastside Catholic looks forward to.
“I think we’ve set ourselves up with our schedule and our team we have coming back to really take that step forward to knock off Bellevue and take the state championship,” Thielbahr said.
Part of taking that next step has been tweaking the offseason regimen – Thielbahr knows how hard it is to keep up with the state’s best teams.
“We really had the best summer we’ve ever had,” Thielbahr said of Eastside Catholic’s conditioning. “We focused on agility and speed, core and flexibility. Less on power, which has been a focus in the past.”
Touching on Bellevue’s athleticism in specific, Thielbahr added that “any mistake you make against Bellevue as far as technique and tackling is amplified because they’re so fast. They’re so tough and so athletic.”
As far as personnel goes, Eastside returns almost everyone – at times last year, it started as many as 13 sophomores.
The biggest loss is 2013 First Team All-League defensive end Elisha Pa’aga, who had seven sacks last year (he now owns the school single-season record).
“He’s a guy that’s going to be hard to replace,” Thielbahr said. “He was one of our emotional leaders.”
Other First Team All-Leaguers who graduated: defensive end Moni Ioane, running back Henry Jarvis, wide receiver Colin MacIlvennie, and guard Drew Springfield.
The general lack of senior depth last year plays to Eastside Catholic’s advantage now, though. Most of the players who will start this year already have the experience of playing in one – if not two – state title games.
“A lot of our young kids have been on a pretty big stage at the Tacoma Dome,” Thielbahr said. “I think a lot of our kids expect to be there.”
Once practice starts on Aug. 20, expect to see more on Eastside Catholic. Don’t expect the message this team wants to convey to change, though.
“Our saying [this season] is ‘Mission Driven’, and our mission is to win the state championship,” Thielbahr said.
Here’s a quick look at some of Eastside Catholic’s standouts and where they stand recruiting-wise:
Deion Fetui – 6-foot, 305 pounds. Senior defensive lineman. Has started since his sophomore season. According to Thielbahr, Fetui is drawing interest from some Pac-12 and WAC programs.
Tony Masaniai – 6-foot-2, 225 pounds. Senior linebacker. Committed to Air Force. Masaniai was named 1st Team All-Metro last season.
Brandon Wellington – 6-foot, 205 pounds. Junior running back and safety. As of Monday, Wellington is a verbal commit to the University of Washington. He’s considered by many to be the top recruit in the state for the class of 2016. He also has offers from Colorado, Oregon State, and Washington State. He’ll likely pick up more as the season progresses.
Cody Baker – 6-foot-4, 245 pounds. Senior defensive end. Voted 1st Team Offense All-Metro Mountain Division at tackle and 2nd Team Defense All-Metro at defensive end. Baker committed to the University of Montana last week.
Alex Neale – 6-foot-3, 285 pounds. Neale was an All-State Second Team center last season – he plays guard at times, as well. Like Baker, he also recently committed to Montana.