Andrew Engles thinks he sprained his thumb in Sammamish’s game against Bellevue last October.
He’s not sure. The junior believes he sprained it then, but knows for sure he broke and partially fractured it in the Totems second-to-last game of the year against Foster three weeks later.
Instead of taking himself out, Engles played through the injury without alerting trainers, coaches or even his mom. The Totems finished the year beating Foster and Bishop Blanchet, all with Engles and his injured thumb leading the way.
That momentum, players say, has carried over this season. And that toughness that Engles displayed? It helped solidify himself as this year’s starting quarterback, just one of the many juniors who will earn playing time this year after getting on the field as sophomores.
“We return a lot of great kids this year,” said second-year coach Brian Tucci. “And with the amount of sophomores that got playing time last year, it’s encouraging. These kids are not going to walk out on the field with the same nervousness as last year.”
In Tucci’s first year, the Totems had the goal of staying competitive in each game. Along the way they picked up three wins and had a two-game winning streak, something that hadn’t been done at Sammamish since 2004.
“Last year was all about setting a foundation,” said Totems senior Taylor Ragan, a captain for the second straight season. “Ever since then, our players have a new mentality and a difference mindset. Coach Tucci has done great things for us and kids are buying into the beliefs.”
Engles and Ragan are just two of the seven returning starters the Totems will boast on offense. Tucci said the team, now in the second year of running a veer-based attack, is making big strides. Last year, he said, it was all about installing the offense. Now the coaches can focus on the little intricacies.
“The things we learned last year we are just tweaking now,” Tucci said. “Now they are learning to take it to a higher level.”
Ragan and junior Nick Myers will play the wing positions, while Acie Black, a junior, will step in at fullback. Engles will man the quarterback spot with more confidence than last year after taking over due to an injury to senior Nick Hartigan.
Engles, who underwent thumb surgery three days after the Totems ended their season, spent the offseason hitting several quarterback camps. That included the Peyton Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana, a camp that feature over 1,200 quarterbacks from across the nation.
“He showed us heart and courage last year,” Tucci said of Engles. “He took the opportunity this summer and bettered himself. He sees what he wants to become and is going after it.”
“He knows what is being asked of him and he’s doing very well so far,” Ragan said. “He’s our quarterback, our ringleader. He’s the man.”
Other players expected to make an impact on offense include junior wide receivers Austin Lee, Joey Sullivan, Andy Luna and David Stevens, as well as senior running backs Sean Smith and Devante Brown.
Sammamish will again run a 3-4 defense to take advantage of an undersized line and speedy linebackers.
One of the biggest weapons that the Totems will boast is kicker Chris Lider. Lider was the First Team All-KingCo punter last year and only improved his game this summer, Tucci said. He is the younger brother of Josh Lider, a former Totems player who went on to kick at Western Washington University and West Virginia University.
Lider can consistently kick the ball into the end zone for touchbacks, Tucci said, and the coaching staff seriously thinks there’s a chance the Totems might never have to defend a kickoff return. One assistant coach even joked that they would only send Lider out for kickoffs.
“Making every offense go 80 yards to score is a huge thing for us,” Tucci said. “It’s a huge weapon for us. The kid can just flat-out kick the ball.”
In total, the Totems return 13 starters, six of whom, including Engles, were sophomores last season. They’ll hope to keep Sammamish rolling after closing out the season with two wins.
“I know it was really fast for a lot of us, going over our heads a little bit,” Engles said. “But by the end of the season, things started to click for us. We’re starting right where we left off.”