Sehome coach Bob Norvell, who is not a small man by any means, was delivering instruction to his offense at a recent preseason practice when suddenly he found himself lost among his towering, robust lineman.
“I was standing at practice the other day, and I got my guys out here and I was like, ‘My God, I feel like I’m in a forest, you know,’” Norvell explained. “I’m a big guy, but I don’t feel big out there. All of a sudden I was looking around and up. Even some of the young kids, they’re just big guys. It’s scary.”
Norvell’s anecdote, while amusing, won’t be as comical to Northwest Conference opposing defenses this year.
The Mariners return all five of their offensive lineman from a season ago, and what a group it could become. But while Sehome’s coaching staff is excited to see how its offense operates under the protection of its big uglies, the front five is simply a foundational piece to what the Mariners are hoping to build this season after a major 2013 breakthrough.
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Sehome earned its first trip to the state playoffs in 14 years thanks to a gripping postseason run that lasted into the first round, when the Mariners lost to state runner-up Tumwater.
What Sehome accomplished was the first step to building what Norvell hopes becomes more of a tradition than a one-hit wonder.
“I think the guys are starting to understand we are trying to build a program, not just a one-time, one-and-done,” Norvell said, “so they are really conscientious of the younger guys and really pulling them in and helping them out.”
For Sehome, its tone-setters belong in the trenches, and the combination of seniors Drew Norvell, Tyler Haggen, Austin Rosas, George Loeppky and junior Jeremy Johnson are an exceptionally strong unit.
Their coach raved about their cohesion and the time they’ve put in working out in the offseason. They’ll chiefly be responsible for opening lanes for a trio of backs Bob is excited about, as well as protecting the Mariners’ new quarterback, who is slated to be one of two juniors — ultra-athletic Taylor Rapp or up-and-comer Gavin Kaepernick.
Whoever the choice, they’ll have big shoes to fill with the loss of speedster Daniel Ziegler, who amassed over 1,000 rushing yards last fall.
Making up for some of the production are backs Daton Nestlebush, Josh Slesk and Kevin Sun. Bob billed Nestlebush a hard runner, called Sun a change-of-pace skat back and Slesk is a player who’s always wanted to run the ball but hasn’t had a chance.
At receiver, Gunnar Nelson and Jonny Reid are favorites to replace Evan Miksovksy’s production.
An area Sehome will be looking to improve upon is its defensive play. The Mariners surrendered 31.2 points per game while yielding an average of 222.8 rushing yards every time out. Sehome’s maturation process in learning how to properly compete should put the Mariners’ defense in better position to succeed.
“This team is definitely more focused, and they understand the whole idea of how to compete,” Bob said. “That has been a big process for us, learning how to compete. They had to learn a new defense last year. These guys come in and already know a lot of it.”
Most of the offensive line will be rotated along the defensive line, and behind them will be linebackers Tyler Hruby, Zack Zimmerman, Tanner Patrick and Josh Slesk.
Drake Zinns has one corner spot solidified, and either Marcus Montag or Gabe Weight are expected to flank him. Rapp gives Sehome a top safety, and Reid could play next to him.