Vikings after fourth conference championship in five years and 13th straight non-losing season
July 1, 2003
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - In a century of football at Western Washington University, no coach has had the level of sustained success Rob Smith has had.
With a career record of 95-46-1, Smith is already Western's leader in coaching victories and winning percentage (.673). Now he has a chance to become the first Viking football coach to reach 100 victories. To do that, Western needs five victories, a mark it has achieved in 13 of Smith's 14 seasons.
Five offensive and six defensive starters, along with All-America punter/kicker Michael Koenen (Jr., Ferndale), return to help the Vikings, 6-4 overall last year and 2-1 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, chase their 13th consecutive non-losing season and fourth conference championship in five years.
Standing in the way is what Smith calls "the most challenging schedule" in school history. The Vikings play three NCAA I-AA schools, two of which, UC Davis and Northern Colorado, are beginning their first year of provisional status after being longtime NCAA II powers. There are two games against teams from the rugged North Central Conference - the opener hosting St. Cloud State, which was 9-2 last year, and a visit to Nebraska-Omaha, which has had seven straight winning seasons. As well, the Vikings have two regular-season matchups with archrival Central Washington, which was 10-1 last year. One of those games, on Oct. 4, is at Seahawks Stadium.
It will be a fun year because of the challenges," Smith said. "We play the game because of those things. It is a big mountain to climb, but when you're on top looking down, it feels good."
Although young in a number of areas, Smith is pleased that the team began to jell in off-season training.
"I like the chemistry of this team," said Smith. "From January to June, they worked as hard as any group we've had. They've come together and it has been fun to see the improvements they've made."
Here's a position-by-position look at the 2003 Vikings:
The Vikings will do some new things this year, but it isn't a new look as much as it is an expanded one that incorporates increased use of a 3-4 along with Western's traditional 4-3 base.
Line: Three seniors provide a wealth of experience, as tackles Nick Ball (Olympia), Brad Mann (Redmond/Lake Washington) and end JeVarian Gamble (Lynnwood) have all seen extensive action. Gamble is a two-year starter who had 36 tackles last season. Ball started nine games last year, making 24 stops. Mann, the biggest of the group at 285 pounds, missed the first half of last season with injuries, but still had 11 tackles.
Also back at end are sophomores Kevin Kamphouse (Sumas/Nooksack Valley) and Joey Joshua (Ferndale). Kamphouse, who made three starts, had 13 tackles last year. Joshua had 12 stops, including two sacks, one of which was for a safety, and has enough mobility that he was tried at outside linebacker in the spring.
"We have experience up front," Smith said. "Mann is healthy again and with Nick Ball and Jay Gamble we have three seniors to build around. Kamphouse and Joshua were highly recruited and now is the time for them to step up and make their mark."
Linebackers: This is probably the deepest area of the entire squad, which is one reason for expanding the use of the 3-4. All three starters return, led by senior Lann Olson (Chehalis/W.F. West), a three-year starter who was a unanimous all-GNAC selection and received second-team all-West Region honors from D2Football.com after making 88 tackles, with a team-high 11.5 of them being for loss. Olson, who had three fumble recoveries and three fumbles forced last season, will be the middle linebacker when Western is in a 4-3.
"It starts with Lann Olson, who has developed into one of the better linebackers to play here," said Smith. "He's very instinctive, runs very well and packs a wallop when he arrives."
The other returning starters are senior Brett Thompson (Auburn/Auburn-Riverside), who had 55 stops, including a team-high 4.5 sacks, last year, and junior Jesse Looker (Puyallup), who made 52 tackles from an outside spot.
Other letter winners returning from last season are seniors Taylor Hutton (Salado, TX) and LaMaine Davis (Renton), and sophomores Aaron Dahl (Gig Harbor) and Adam Klingenberg (Walla Walla), all of whom saw extensive action. Klingenberg plays inside, the other three fill outside spots.
But the depth doesn't stop there. Senior Derek Noble (Bellevue/Newport), a starter at middle linebacker in 2001 when he had 50 tackles, returns after taking a year off from school, and redshirt freshman Jeff Parks (Graham/Bethel), a transfer from Boise State, made an immediate impact in the spring. Redshirt freshmen Joe Allen (Graham/Bethel), Pat Mutzel (Bellevue) and John A. Williams II (Sammamish/Eastlake) are also in the mix.
"Linebacker is the strength of our defense," Smith said. "We have some real talent there, and the 3-4 allows us to get an extra linebacker on the field. One thing about this group is that all of them run extremely well. That's something we've got to use, we need guys to make plays."
Secondary: The lone starter returning is junior strong safety Rob White (Woodinville/Inglemoor), but he's a good starter to have back, as he led the Vikings in tackles (99), fumbles forced (4) and interceptions (3) last season.
"He had an outstanding season and you'd expect to see great improvement now that he's been starting for a year," Smith said of White. "He runs well and we need him to be a leader by example."
The only other letter winners in the secondary are sophomore Brett Snyder-Ferguson (Colville), a former walk-on who figures to start at free safety; sophomore Brett Hall, who is likely to start at one of the corners; and junior Ryan Sousley, a top reserve at safety who has spent most of his career on offense but has also excelled on coverage teams.
Redshirt freshman Ocie Moore (Seattle/Kent-Meridian) held one of the starting corner spots throughout spring ball. Redshirt freshman Sly Whitfield (Seattle/Garfield) is also contending for time there. The cornerback spot is also bolstered by the addition of junior John Shields (Spanaway/Bethel), a transfer from College of the Siskyous, and Bryan Jarrett (Puyallup), who Smith says has a chance to be the first true freshman to see the field since the 2000 season.
"I feel much better after the spring," Smith said. "These guys will develop. We just have to be careful not to put them in vulnerable positions as they grow."
Line: Two starters return among a total of seven letter winners. Senior Jon Pagan (Los Angeles, CA/El Segundo) and sophomore Loren Winter (Bothell/Juanita) started all 10 games last year, Pagan at guard and Winter at center.
Junior Todd Gowing (Kirkland/Inglemoor) is the most experienced of the other letter winners, having played nine games last year, and he figures to start at guard. Extra depth at guard comes from sophomore Jeff DeBuigne (Kennewick/Kamiakin) and redshirt freshman Peter Van Data (Bremerton/Central Kitsap). Senior Lincoln Stalnaker (Flagstaff, AZ/Coconino) made one start at center last year.
At tackles, junior Geoff Hise (Snoqualmie/Mount Si) and sophomore Justin Simpson (Kennewick/Kamiakin) are the starters entering the season, backed up by junior Jason Day (Tonasket) and redshirt freshman Brandon Torrey (Graham/Bethel).
The key addition along the line is junior tackle Andy Thompson (Milan, IN), who last played at NCAA I-AA Eastern Illinois. Another newcomer contending for time at guard is redshirt freshman Tyler Sleeman (Black Diamond/Tahoma), a transfer from NCAA I-AA Eastern Washington.
Quarterback: Josh Shimek (Pasco) and Steve Nichols (Stevenson) made history last year, as they became the first pair of Western quarterbacks to each throw for 1,000 yards in a season. Smith aimed to have a No.1 signal caller named during the spring, and Nichols enters fall camp as the No.1, although both figure to see action.
Nichols threw for 1,177 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions last season, starting four games. Shimek started six contests, throwing for 1,544 yards with 13 scores and five interceptions while completing 61.7 percent of his attempts. Redshirt freshman James Monrean (Bellingham/Sehome) is the No.3 quarterback.
"It's still very close between Steve and Josh and both will play," Smith said. "We felt Steve had the better spring and won the position through his performance. Often times, too much is made of it. Who starts has never been important - both guys have thrown for over 1,000 yards and their teammates and coaches have confidence in them."
Running Back: This is an extraordinarily deep area, with three players who have started returning. Sophomore Duncan Sherrard (Seattle/Roosevelt) emerged as the top back midway through last season, ending up with 687 yards and seven touchdowns on 139 carries. Sophomore Jake Carlyle (Olympia/Capital) added 268 and two scores, and senior Nyle Chambers (Sumner), a part-time starter the two previous seasons, ran for 156 yards and a touchdown.
"We're only going to get better there," Smith said. "All of those guys can get the job done, and all will play."
Chambers figures to be the fullback when Western goes to a two-back set, but sophomore Joe Casillas (Phoenix, AZ/Arcadia) may also see time.
Tight end: Junior Rick Carte (Juneau, AK/Juneau-Douglas) saw extensive action in double tight end sets last year, making five catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. He moves into the starting role now. Carte is joined by sophomore Nick Yoney (Arlington), who moves in from wide receiver; and redshirt freshman Johnny McDonald (Vancouver/Hudson's Bay). Casillas may also see time at tight end.
The tight end group all should provide big targets, as each is at least 6-foot-3.
Wide Receivers: Sophomore wide receiver Andy Olson (Chehalis/W.F. West) made big progress as a redshirt freshman and looks ready to emerge as a go-to receiver in the mold of Greg Dykstra, Ben Clampitt and Chris Nicholl before him. Olson had 18 receptions for 342 yards and three touchdowns in 2002, averaging a team-best 19.0 yards a catch and scoring a 58-yard touchdown against UC Davis.
Senior slotback Nate Kuhns (Yakima/Eisenhower), the last Viking to see action as a true freshman when he did so in 2000, has been a contributor ever since. He had 18 receptions for 207 yards and one score last year.
Olson and Kuhns lead a very deep group of receivers. Senior wide receiver Ryan Van Diest (Lynden) battled various difficulties that limited him to six games last season, making 12 catches for 189 yards. As a sophomore in 2001, he had 31 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns.
Other possibilities include sophomore slotback Jason Barton (Gig Harbor), who saw action in all 10 games last year, primarily on special teams; and redshirt freshmen Matt Wilson (Auburn), Brett Upchurch (Sammamish/Eastlake) and Kevin Cooley (Spokane/Mount Spokane).
The top newcomer is junior wide receiver James Laurence (Kent/Kent-Meridian). A big target at 6-4, he had 55 receptions for 791 yards and three touchdowns in earning all-league honors for Antelope Valley JC last season.
Kicking duties could not be in better hands, err, feet. Koenen was selected as a first-team All-America punter in three different listings, as well as being named NCAA II Specialist of the Year by Don Hansen's Football Gazette.
Koenen led NCAA II nationally in punting last year, averaging 44.9 yards a punt, including a school-record 73-yarder, and he put 16 attempts inside the 20-yard line.
He was 9-of-17 on field goals, missing just one from inside 40 yards, and hit 34-of-35 extra points, as well as sending 19 kickoffs for touchbacks. He also holds school records for longest field goal (54 yards), consecutive successful field goals (8), and consecutive extra point makes (40).
"Michael has established himself as one of the top kickers in the country at any level," Smith said. "But he can't take that for granted, he needs to continue to improve. If I have any concern, it is that he tends to overdo it. We need him healthy, he handles all our kicking and he's very talented at what he does."
On returns, the Vikings don't have anyone back who returned a punt last season, but Kuhns and Andy Olson figure to handle the duties. Sherrard and Carlyle saw action on kickoff returns last year and might be joined by Sousley.
On coverage teams, Hutton and Sousley have been standouts for the last couple seasons, and Mutzel also may have an impact. DeBuigne figures to be the long snapper.
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