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Scott Hilborn is one of 11 freshmen on a 24-man CHS football roster. (Photos by JohnsPhotos.net)

Seniors Dawson Houston (with ball) and Gavin Straub have grown into leaders for the Wolves.

It’s a year of transition.

The Coupeville High School football team faces several obstacles now, which could pay off big-time down the road.

Or, at least that’s the hope.

The Wolves, coming off a 3-6 record, play an independent schedule this fall, and will do so with a roster where freshmen account for 11 of 24 players.

As the CHS gridiron squad rebuilds under second-year coach Marcus Carr, school officials decided to pull the football program from the 1A North Sound Conference this year.

With Coupeville expected to drop down to 2B in the next classification counts, that gives the Wolves a chance to avoid powerhouses like King’s and Cedar Park Christian, while facing teams they better match up with.

The September schedule pits CHS against the same four teams it opened against last year — Port Townsend, Vashon Island, Friday Harbor, and La Conner.

The Wolves opened 2018 with a strong 3-1 showing against that lineup, then tailed off once conference play began.

This time around, Coupeville is also matched up against Kittitas, Northwest Christian (which is new to football), Anacortes (which killed its varsity program due to a lack of older players), and Interlake.

The lone North Sound Conference foe the Wolves retain is next-door neighbor South Whidbey, which keeps the annual clash for The Bucket alive.

Opting for an independent schedule was a path Coupeville’s arch-rivals took two years ago, and the Wolves are hoping for similar success.

Playing a mix of 2B and Canadian schools, South Whidbey surged to a 7-2 record in 2017, filled out its roster considerably, then claimed a playoff spot last season in the debut year for the North Sound Conference.

For Coupeville to make the playoffs as an independent team it has to go undefeated — something last accomplished by the Wolves in 1990.

But while making the postseason this fall is a long shot, the chance to grow the Wolf roster and build confidence among young players is huge.

“We want to improve our win/loss record,” Carr said. “We have 11 freshmen, so getting them game experience and confidence (is the goal).

“We also want to see better execution on the offensive side of the ball.”

The Wolves are transitioning to a spread offense, which means “timing between the QB’s and receivers is very important.”

Dawson Houston returns for his second season as Coupeville’s starting quarterback, and his primary targets will be fellow seniors Sean Toomey-Stout and Gavin Knoblich.

Toomey-Stout, listed as a wide receiver after playing running back previously, was a First-Team All-Conference player as a junior on offense, defense, and special teams.

One of the stars of a viral video in which a wayward deer became his lead blocker as he returned a punt for a touchdown, “The Torpedo” remains one of the most-explosive players to ever pull on a CHS uniform.

Knoblich, who gives Houston a tall target with sure hands, was a Second-Team All-Conference pick at tight end during his junior campaign.

Senior running back Andrew Martin, fond of bustin’ heads as he rumbles for yardage, and senior linebacker Gavin Straub, who had a strong performance at spring camp, are among other key players.

Also back in action are senior Gavin St Onge, junior Ben Smith, and sophomores Isaiah Bittner, Gabe Shaw, and Brian Casey.

Junior Dakota Eck, who played for Coupeville through middle school, returned to town last spring, and rejoins the Wolves.

New to the CHS gridiron program are senior Austin Galletta, sophomore Cole Hutchinson, and, in somewhat of a huge, yet very positive, surprise, the largest freshman class in recent memory.

Coupeville’s middle school football program shut down mid-way through last season, due to a lack of healthy players.

Now it’s been disbanded for good, and replaced with a boys soccer team which will make its debut this fall.

But, thanks to a combination of middle school players who hung on through the tough times, and others who are new to the school or football program, Coupeville is flooded with 9th graders.

And it’s a group which will likely get a lot of playing time right away.

Skills players Scott Hilborn (RB, S) and Daylon Houston (CB, WR, K), as well as lineman Josh Upchurch, Kai Wong, and Kynel Hart are already making names for themselves, while their fellow frosh are all looking to make a big splash of their own.

Dominic Coffman,Timothy Ursu, Joven Light, Kevin Partida, Nick Armstrong, and Cameron Epp round out the current roster.

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Coupeville QB Dawson Houston, who will be a senior this fall, returns to lead a football team which is transitioning to an independent schedule for a season. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

There’s a positive buzz in the air.

Coupeville High School’s football coaching staff met with players and parents Wednesday, acknowledging challenges which face the Wolf gridiron program, while focusing on the positives.

With gear being issued Thursday, and spring practice kicking off the next day, 40-50 people were in the stands in the CHS gym as head coach Marcus Carr kicked off his second season at the helm of the program.

“I’m looking forward to getting started!” he said.

Carr is currently hoping for somewhere in the range of 22-25 players, which would be very solid given 10 of the 22 players on last fall’s season-ending roster graduate next week.

The roster should be headlined by next year’s seniors, key contributors such as Sean Toomey-Stout, Andrew Martin, Dawson Houston, and Gavin Knoblich.

Younger players such as Gabe Shaw and Brian Casey have added muscle, while former CMS star Dakota Eck, who returned to town this spring after starting high school elsewhere, was one of several potential new players in the audience.

Coupeville, which started 3-1 last season before injuries steadily chipped away at the team’s depth during an 0-5 league campaign, is switching up the plan this season.

With the school expected to drop to 2B when new classification counts go into effect for the 2020-2021 school year, CHS Athletic Director Willie Smith was granted permission for the football program to go independent this fall.

All other Wolf sports teams remain in the 1A North Sound Conference next school year.

Football, however, will play a schedule made up of schools, ranging from 2B-3A, which are in the same boat as Coupeville’s gridiron squad, which has been small in numbers, and undersized in the trenches.

South Whidbey (and the battle for The Bucket) remains on the schedule, as does Port Townsend, La Conner, Friday Harbor, and Vashon Island.

But Kittitas, Northwest Christian, Interlake, and Anacortes will be new to Wolf fans.

“Most of the teams in our league had lines which averaged 230-245 pounds a guy, and our size just doesn’t match up right now,” Carr told his audience.

“We were looking for smaller schools, schools new to football (like Northwest Christian), or schools closer to us in numbers,” he added. “This will give us a chance to be competitive, get our system in place and help our players prepare for the (likely) move to 2B.”

CHS coaches are putting a major emphasis on player safety, and hope to lessen injuries, keeping players on the field all season and able to compete at a top level.

The school purchased Guardian Caps, soft shell covers which slip over the player’s helmets, and provide another layer of safety during practices.

According to reviews, the caps “reduce the overall buildup of small blows that occur over the course of a season by allowing greater energy dissipation at the point of contact with a pliable material.”

The Wolves will also have “less live tackling” in practice, while teaching proper techniques and utilizing The Tackle Wheel in place of always crashing into live bodies.

“I know some of you are going to try and jump through it while it’s moving,” Carr said of the device, which resembles a giant doughnut.

“And if you do that, you’re gonna feel pretty good about yourself. We’ll see if any of you are that talented…”

The team has also added Iron Neck devices, used to stabilize the neck and help strengthen muscles during workouts.

“You work on your neck muscles, it helps with everything,” Carr said.

The Wolf football coach wants to be able to turn to the sideline and see more than one or two reserves by midway through the season.

“We want to reduce in-practice injuries and have our guys be ready for the season,” Carr said. “We want to make sure we’re being safe and keeping everyone healthy.”

Along with safety, keeping players focused on putting in time in the weight room, which has been key to every successful football program since players wore leather helmets, is a major goal.

“Our summer weight program is very important,” Carr said. “Other teams are in there on a regular basis, and we should be, too, if we want to compete with them.

“We need to make every minute in there count.”

While laying out the day-to-day program for the season-to-come, Carr also took side detours to show off the team’s glossy new helmet stickers and have son/assistant coach Bobby detail a community service project for the Wolves.

The younger Carr is a professional painter, and is arranging for the CHS players to join him in painting the building used by the Coupeville Boys and Girls Club.

Along with the Carrs, returning CHS coaches include Bennett Richter, Tyson Boon, and Gabe Shaw, Sr.

Nathan Bellamy’s schedule won’t allow him to coach this fall, and Kwamane Bowens has moved out of state to pursue his musical career, but Brett Casey is moving up from the middle school to join the CHS coaching staff.

He became available when Smith shut down the CMS football program, citing a severe lack of players.

The middle school had to cancel half of its six-game schedule last fall.

Coupeville’s stated plan is to replace tackle football with flag football before high school, but little is known about the new proposal, which would reportedly include athletes in grades 3-8.

Smith was at a different meeting Wednesday, so issues such as whether the Boys and Girls Club will be involved, and whether the Wolves will play other schools, or just compete in-house, were tabled for another day.

Instead, the focus remained on the high school program (and the free pizza the players were eyeballing) and with Marcus Carr working the room like a pro, projecting a calm confidence, things seemed pretty good.

“We have to be in the weight room and dedicated to putting on muscle,” the CHS head coach told his audience. “And most of all, we need everyone putting in the effort in the classroom. That’s the big thing.

“We’ll go forward and tackle all our challenges, get bigger and better, get people in the right spots, and do our thing.

“We’ll be just fine.”

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