High School Football

Lacking size, Kamiakin Braves will rely on speed and talent to carry them this season

Scott Biglin’s Kamiakin Braves found a way to get into the Class 3A playoffs last season, when they were almost left for dead with a few weeks left in the season.

Kamiakin had dropped games on consecutive weeks to both Richland and Chiawana, with just a game at Hermiston left in a winner-to-regionals, loser-out contest in the final week of the regular season.

For that game, Biglin and his staff changed things up.

“Against Hermiston we modified about five or six things, and it worked,” Biglin said.

The Braves offense started speeding things up and – without knowing it, said Biglin – the guys were running 100 plays in practice.

Kamiakin beat Hermiston, making regionals, where they won and advanced to state.

The Braves lost in the first round to O’Dea, but it gave the young guys the confidence they needed heading into the 2019 season.

“Strength is our speed (this year),” said Biglin. “We’re not big. We tell the kids we can’t do anything about the size. And they’ll have some Friday night jitters. A lot of them haven’t really played under the lights. They’ll have to grow up fast.”

It all starts Thursday night with a 7 o’clock home game at Lampson Stadium against West Valley of Yakima.

Five things to know about the Kamiakin Braves

1. They’ll be young once again

Wait. What?

They were young last year.

Yes, but Biglin said some seniors didn’t turn out this season.

This season, there are nine seniors, 17 juniors, 23 sophomores and one freshman (kicker Braeden Staniszewski) on the varsity roster.

“I am excited. We’ve got a good bunch of kids, and they work hard,” said Biglin. “We had a young team last year, and we have a young team again. We’ll look to some of the sophomores to step into backup roles. There is a lot of football IQ in this group.”

2. The quarterback battle

After a battle for the starting spot, sophomore Henry Mercado was pegged by Biglin this week to start the season opener.

“But (last year’s starter) Lucas Castilleja will also get in there Thursday night for a couple of series,” said Biglin.

Both QBs are learning the RPO (run-pass option) offensive system, which could be a major headache to opposing defensive coordinators in the Mid-Columbia Conference if it’s run correctly.

Kamiakin football 2019
Players to watch in 2019 on the Kamiakin Braves football team, from left, are: Niko Wiltz, Tuna Altahir, Kelen Rutz, EJ Hawkins, Lui Salgado, Woodley Downard and Messiah Jones. Coach Scott Biglin says the strength of the team is speed on both sides of the ball. Watch a video at: tricityherald.com/video Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

3. Skill positions are loaded

This is where the speed comes in.

Start with Tuna Altahir, a junior, at running back, where he’s been a terror his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“Defenses are going to try to stop Tuna,” said Biglin. “He put on 15 pounds this offseason. He didn’t turn out for track, but he had a track guy work with him in the spring on running. The first two years he was just real quiet. He’s starting to get a little more vocal.”

Same thing, Biglin said, with Messiah Jones. The junior doesn’t like how something is going in practice, he’ll get on his teammates before Biglin can say the same thing.

“It’s good to hear it from the kids,” said Biglin.

Jones, a 6-foot-6 junior receiver, will be a tough matchup for opposing secondaries.

In addition, Mercado and Castilleja will have other very good targets in Woodley Downard, Kellen Rutz and sophomore Luis Salgado.

“We are eight guys deep at receiver. Our 2s are pretty good too,” said Biglin.

4. Sullins will lead the line

Senior Tanner Sullins was a first-team MCC defensive lineman last year, and he also played on the offensive line.

He’ll do damage on both sides of the ball again.

“He is by far our leader,” said Biglin. “In the weight room he works the hardest. In running sessions he works the hardest. He may not be first, but he works the hardest.”

Biglin also mentioned sophomore OL Aaron Tano as the most pleasant surprise this fall.

“He didn’t turn out for spring,” said Biglin. “But he came out this fall and stepped right into a position we needed help at.”

5. Defense will be tough again

Many of the above-named players will be on both sides of the ball, helping Kamiakin maintain its reputation as one of the better defensive units in the MCC.

“(Defensive coordinator Ryan) Carter has done a great job with the defense,” said Biglin.

Carter still uses many things that former longtime defensive coordinator Tim Maher (who is still the team’s linebackers coach) ran.

“But now, coach Carter has his own spin on it,” said Biglin.

He admits he is never satisfied as a coach. But he’d like to see a deep run into the postseason for this young squad.

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