There wasn’t a football in sight during the fourth day of the Eastside Bulldogs annual spring practice workouts at Bellevue High School.
The Bulldogs, who compete in the Northwest Junior College Football League (NWJCFL), were focused on footwork, speed and agility drills under the bright sunshine on the evening of June 26. Bulldogs’ head coach Kevin Bouwman said the lack of footballs filling the air was completely by design.
“There is no gear (pads and helmets). Right now we are just bearing down through agility drills. We’re trying to get these guys in shape and have them realize what they need to do before they get back in August,” Bouwman said.
The first day of fall practices will be Aug. 1 with the first game taking place against Central Sound on Aug. 26. The Bulldogs roster is composed of players who are enrolled at various colleges throughout the area. Each player on the roster is required to be enrolled in a minimum of five credits per semester/quarter in order to be eligible to play on the team. While Bouwman wants to win as much as any other head coach patrolling the sidelines, football isn’t what is most important to him and his coaching comrades.
“Winning is the icing on the cake. What I’m really looking for is how do we make these guys successful not only on the field but off the field. Our center Chris Wright is back for his fourth year and the reason why he is back for his fourth year is because he is going to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Seattle Pacific University. We have another guy who is finishing up his AA (associates of arts degree). That is our goal. Lets get school done,” Bouwman said. “I want to be able to sit in the crowd at these guys graduations.”
The Bulldogs finished with a 5-4 overall record during the 2017 campaign. In 2015 and 2016, the Bulldogs were the NWJCFL champions.
“We want to get back to that level,” Bouwman said. “We have some veterans coming back but we also have a lot of new guys this year. We are pulling them from all over the place. We have a guy from Brazil (Gustavo Silva) and we’re still actively recruiting guys.”
The Bulldogs have close to 20 players participating during spring practices but expect that number to increase significantly when the first day of fall practice rolls around on Aug. 1. Bouwman said there is a wide range of ages of players on the Bulldogs roster.
“Some people think they just have to have graduated from high school but it’s not the case. We have guys of all ages. From players who graduated four years ago and looking to get back into it, to we have a 17-year-old who just graduated from Renton High School a few weeks ago,” Bouwman explained.
While the Bulldogs will have a plethora of new players on the gridiron, they remain rock solid at the quarterback spot.
“Kyle Tief comes back as the incumbent and he is looking to solidify his position as the No. 1 quarterback. Obviously we are bringing in some guys to push him. He is excited. Finally he gets a chance to be the man. He is leading the charge for us,” Bouwman said.
Silva, who is a 28-year-old from Brazil, flew to Seattle on June 19 so he would be in attendance for the first day of spring practice. Silva will fly back to Brazil on June 29. The Bulldogs final practice session took place on June 28. Silva will be enrolled at Bellevue College this fall and will return to the United States on Aug. 1.
“It is a great opportunity to play football in America, which is the highest level of football in the world. I’m really excited for this,” Silva said.
The 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pound linebacker was impressed with the skill level of his teammates during the Bulldogs six practice sessions in June.
“It has been good to be here to get to know the coaches and the players. Some of these guys have been playing football since they were little kids,” Silva said of his teammates. “I started playing football when I was 19 (informally). They have more experience than me in football but I probably have more life experience, which is something that will help the team too.”