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Wolverines 'Fight On' for Morales | Prep sports feature

Rio Morales, younger brother to Ari, sports the FOA haircut that players dedicated to their sidelined teammate.  - Courtesy Photo, Michelle Morales, AriSTRONG Sports
Rio Morales, younger brother to Ari, sports the FOA haircut that players dedicated to their sidelined teammate.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo, Michelle Morales, AriSTRONG Sports

When Bellevue football players had "FOA" cut into their hair before the season-opener against Euless-Trinity, it wasn't to play to the cameras or in an effort to boost "swag."

It was to pay respect to a sidelined teammate.

"FOA," short for "Fight On Ari," has been the moniker throughout the season after senior captain Ari Morales was injured during the team's annual summer retreat. It will continue to be so when top-ranked Bellevue travels to face second-ranked Mount Si in a showdown for the 3A KingCo title.

Morales played a major role in last year's run to the state title, capped by a signature touchdown run in the championship win over O'Dea that included a vicious stiff-arm at the goal line.

That performance and Morales' steady maturation over his career had coaches, teammates and Division I recruiters brimming at the prospects for 2012. But even after the injury cut down those aspirations prematurely, Morales remained upbeat and a strong voice in the Bellevue locker room.

"He's the type of kid that as hard as he works, he will respond the right way," head coach Butch Goncharoff said. "He's been a great leader and done a great job."

Morales said the injury happened on an otherwise routine play. He caught pass out of the backfield and went to make a cut he never finished.

"My leg just straightened out," he said. "I felt it give out and I just fell over."

Even after witnessing the play, coaches and teammates were surprised at the diagnosis of a torn lateral meniscus and ACL in the left knee. They immediately knew the implication was the end of Morales' prep career.

"It's been really tough," he said. "But I've had great support from my teammates, every single one of them. Coaches of course have been supportive, parents, the whole Bellevue football community has really helped me through it along with all the strength I have got from my family."

And if the results on the field are any indication, his presence has paid off.

Since a 31-24 overtime win overTrinity in the opening week of the season, Bellevue has not faced anything even remotely close to a challenge in any of the three phases of the game, something Bellevue coaches and players expect to change against the Wildcats.

On defense, the Wolverines have allowed only 14 points in the last five games combined and pitched three shutouts. In lopsided wins over Bothell, Lake Washington, Sammamish and Interlake, the Wolverines' defense either tied or outscored the opposing offense.

The offense, even without a would-be three year starter in Morales, has been equally dominant, racing to large first half leads and executing to the point where starters have not been needed in the second half.

Mount Si, while not facing the same caliber of opponents in the non-conference, has been nearly as impressive.

Only Juanita (six) and Interlake (eight) have managed to even crack the scoreboard against a defense loaded with seniors and primed for an opportunity at the vaunted Bellevue offense, as evidenced by a Facebook fan page entitled, "The Mt Si class of 2013 Those Senoirs (sic) will win the 3A football championship."

Takeaways have been the staple of the Mount Si defense thus far, as Hank VanLiew and Hunter Malberg are tied for the league lead with three interceptions each. The Wildcats lead 3A KingCo in fumbles (six), interceptions (12) and turnover ratio (plus 16).

But the Wildcats will likely have a difficult time creating interceptions against the run-heavy Wolverines and quarterback Jack Meggs, who leads the league by a wide margin in completion percentage at 80 percent and has not yet tossed an interception in 20 attempts.

Regardless of which unit is on the field for the Wolverines, one thing remains constant, the injury behind their collective mission.

"Before we got out every game and practice, we just think about his position and what he would do to be out here playing with us," senior Scott Whiting said. "It means a lot to us seeing him here still."

Morales echoed that sentiment and said even though he knows he will not again step on the field as a Wolverine, the opportunity to share in the successes of a team he is still very much a part of has been uplifting to say the least.

"I think it is big for me, coming out here and seeing these guys having fun," he said. "It motivates me to be a leader and coach up the guys. They are the future of Bellevue football."

Morales talks with a teammate during stretching at a Bellevue practice. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER

The motto "F25", which originally carried the meaning of being the first Washington prep program to win five state football titles in a row, took on double meaning in the wake of Morales' injury. He wore number 25 for Bellevue leading players to play, "For 25," this year. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER

Contact and submissions: jsuman@bellevuereporter.com

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