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Newport looking for another postseason run under new head coach Oliver | Prep spring football
Spring football has concluded around Bellevue, with teams set for summer conditioning and team camps before fall practice opens in late August.
The Reporter takes a look at each of the four public school squads, featuring Newport and new head coach Drew Oliver in this installment.
2013 season: Newport endured an up-and-down regular season, losing a lopsided game to rival Issaquah before reaching the 4A state tournament and shocking Lake Stevens in the play-in round. The Knights built a large lead against Bellarmine Prep in the first round at state, before suffering a gut-wrenching defeat in the final seconds.
Early outlook: The Knights lose a workhorse running back (and linebacker) in Conner Baumann, and welcome a new head coach in Drew Oliver, as they look to climb in the new-look 4A KingCo.
The conference changes in a major way in 2014, as Garfield, Roosevelt and Ballard leave the league, while Mount Si joins Class 4A. The conference will not feature two separate divisions, and will use a round-robin schedule in football.
All-KingCo losses: First Team offense: Conner Baumann, RB (Offensive Player of the Year); Nolan Anderson, OL; First Team defense: Bennett Long, DL; Second Team defense: Tariq Muhammad, LB
All-KingCo returners: First Team offense: Cal Throckmorton (Lineman of the Year); Second Team offense: Paul Wells, RB; Nolan Richardson, OL; Second Team defense: Throckmorton, DL; Wells, DB
Biggest question: Who carries the mail without Baumann in the backfield?
When Newport's offense was most in need last year, there was never a doubt about who would be looked to for production.
Departed senior Conner Baumann finished the season as the team leader in carries (128), yards (1,696) and rushing touchdowns (21), and was the focal point of opposing defenses at all times.
New head coach Drew Oliver, most recently the leader at Hazen and himself a Newport alum, said the loss leaves an obvious void.
"He was obviously a rare talent," Oliver said. "He's a first-class kid and for us, it is 'next man up.'"
One of the backs looking to fill the void will be rising senior Paul Wells, second on the team in most statistical categories last season in the backfield, along with fellow running back Nkumbu Chisebuka and quarterback Jordan Sandberg.
Chisebuka averaged nearly nine yards per carry in 2013, while Sandberg rushed for three scores and threw for three more in a part-time role. The other member of last year's quarterback mix, JP Routen, has transferred according to Oliver, leaving rising junior Kenny Lofgren as the other option under center in the Knights' patented triple-option attack.
"Our triple-option is a whole lot of decision making, and a lot of repetition," Oliver said. "It's important to spend as much time as we can with those guys."
The defense was solid throughout most of the conference slate last year, allowing only 16 points per game in five KingCo wins. But Issaquah touched Newport for 48 in a rivalry game meltdown, and Skyline knocked them from the conference playoff picture with a 34 point effort later in the year.
An offense that scored fewer than 28 points only once (the 34-17 loss to the Spartans) the entire season led the way last season, and Oliver said the plan is to use more of his standouts on both sides of the ball to maximize that playmaking ability this year.
Rising senior and recent University of Oregon commit Cal Throckmorton, a 6-foot-5, 268 pound lineman, will be in the middle of things on both sides of the ball in his final prep season. Oliver said the early returns during spring have been outstanding for the Pac-12 commit.
"He is the most humble leader we've got out there," Oliver said. "He is at the front of the drills showing an example, not taking a rep off."
Skyline also reloads with a strong crop of all-conference rising seniors, after winning the conference title last year, while the rest of the contenders from 2013 (Issaquah, Eastlake, Bothell) suffer major losses due to graduation.
If his backfield increases its production in-line with growing roles, and the defenses finds its most skilled players plugging holes from last year, Oliver could be in for a 4A playoff run in his first season at the helm.
"This is one job I had to jump at," he said, adding he was not looking to leave Hazen before the Newport job became available with coach Mike Miller's resignation. "I could see myself here for a long time. It's a bit of a dream job for me."