High School Football

Rugby helped teach him how to run the ball in space; now he’s showing it on the gridiron

Ferndale’s Cole Semu drags two Capital defenders Nov. 5 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham. Semu has become the featured running back for Ferndale this year and scored five touchdowns in Week 1.
Ferndale’s Cole Semu drags two Capital defenders Nov. 5 at Civic Stadium in Bellingham. Semu has become the featured running back for Ferndale this year and scored five touchdowns in Week 1. eabell@bhamherald.com

Over the years, Squalicum benefited from players such as Nick Wallace, Jack Wendling and Jake Burns. Sehome had Titi Lamositele, and there have been plenty of others.

But especially over the past two years, it’s the Ferndale football team that seems to benefit most from a steady pipeline of players from the Chuckanut Bay Rugby Club who become key contributors on the gridiron.

Former Golden Eagle standout Ben Broselle, who last year rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and won his second state wrestling title, recently moved on to play rugby at UCLA. This year Ferndale has junior Jaden Schwartz and seniors Spencer Crosswhite, Alex Cleary and Cole Semu making large contributions.

“I don’t know why we have so many rugby guys from Ferndale,” Semu said. “I think it might be because so many people talk about it. Somebody might play in a rugby tournament in Seattle over the weekend, and it gets all the other guys interested.”

Whatever the reason, Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich wants to keep seeing them coming.

“Those guys know how to tackle in space and how to keep their hat out of things, because they don’t wear a helmet (in rugby),” Plenkovich said. “There’re a lot of those guys who cross over well. We’re happy to have them keep coming to us.”

Who could blame him, especially after Semu’s performance during last week’s 49-13 win over Vancouver College?

All the 5-foot-10, 200-pound halfback did on 10 carries last week was rush for 92 yards and four touchdowns – stats he’d love to duplicate Friday when the Golden Eagles host Lynden in Whatcom County’s biggest annual rivalry.

Still not enough? How about his strong play at safety, or returning a punt 50 yards for a touchdown early in the second half to put the game away?

“Returning the kick was probably my favorite,” Semu said of his five-TD performance. “That was my first varsity kick return for a touchdown, and personally, I was really happy about that.”

We want to make sure he (Semu) gets the ball where he’s got room to work. He’s really tough to tackle one-on-one. We’ll take that matchup any time.

Ferndale coach Jamie Plenkovich

Taking a kick back just displays something Plenkovich and his staff already knew about Semu – he’s extremely dangerous in space. It’s likely a talent Semu learned on the rugby fields, where there is more open space, especially in the sevens game.

“For Josh (Shimek), our offensive coordinator, it’s a challenge for him to do that,” Plenkovich said. “We want to make sure he (Semu) gets the ball where he’s got room to work. He’s really tough to tackle one-on-one. We’ll take that matchup any time.”

But it’s far from the only place Ferndale feels confident with the ball tucked in Semu’s arms.

“He’s got a great way in tight spaces of making people miss,” Plenkovich said. “That’s a talent. He has great vision when he gets in those spots. Some guys start making all these moves, and they don’t gain any ground. He’s making moves and slipping through tight places and moving forward.”

Even Semu admits he doesn’t know the secret to his success in traffic.

“It’s just a natural thing for me,” Semu said. “I zone out when I go in and just react.”

Obviously, it’s working out pretty well.

I’m a guy who likes to work my butt off – day-in, day-out. I strive to be someone guys can look to when we face adversity or the game is not going smoothly.

Ferndale running back/safety Cole Semu

Cole Semu
Cole Semu

As a junior, Semu rushed for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns and caught 12 passes for 148 yards and four more scores. But he was part of a three-headed attack last year, with Broselle and 964-yard rusher Justice Powell.

With the other two graduating, Semu is the last Golden Eagle back standing with extensive playing time.

Now Ferndale is trying to find other options to keep defenses from keying too heavily on Semu.

“It’s going to be more of a committee than having three designated backs, like we had last year,” Plenkovich said. “We’ll be doing more with different personnel groups, and we have guys with different skill sets. We’ve got good players, but we want to use them in different ways.”

Semu, also, moves from fullback as a junior to halfback, where he played as a sophomore, and has taken on a bigger leadership role this year, something he said enjoys.

“I’m not vocal, but I lead by example,” Semu said. “I’m a guy who likes to work my butt off – day-in, day-out. I strive to be someone guys can look to when we face adversity or the game is not going smoothly.”

Now he just wants to show Ferndale to victory Friday night.

Game time

LYNDEN vs. FERNDALE

Time: 7 p.m. Friday

Site: Ferndale High School

Last year: Ferndale won 27-20 at Lynden

Related stories from Bellingham Herald

  Comments