High School Football

A Kamiakin encore

KENNEWICK -- Encore! Encore!

It's the clapping cry heard after a fine theater performance, a shout of adulation acknowledging something great, something "more than."

On the football field, however, it takes on another meaning and is said with an entirely different tone.


The Kamiakin Braves coaching staff and players have gone to great lengths to emphasize this season's outfit is an entirely separate football team and not just a continuation of last year's stellar squad that reached the 3A state championship game and finished second in state.

Without question, they are correct. In high school especially, turnover is big from season to season, and even having a slew of returners doesn't guarantee improvement.

And without question, the Kamiakin students and fans won't care.

Different team? Looks like the same uniform to us. Same red and black. Same Red Brick Wall.

External though it might be, the pressure will be on for the Braves to live up to lofty expectations. For a defense that must replace five all-league players -- including defensive player of the year Jon Allen and two more first-teamers -- that is a tall order.

It helps, though, that the Braves have a strong core to build on in senior outside linebackers Zach Umemoto and Drew Oord.

"It's a different team, but we have the same mind set going in," said Oord, like Umemoto a unanimous first-team all-league pick last season. "We expect to win, and we expect to make a run at (winning) state again.

"We have the same ethic. We're working hard, and now we know what to expect."

This version of the Red Brick Wall -- the student section's name for Kamiakin's defense -- is built on a solid foundation that goes deeper than Umemoto and Oord. Defensive end Joe Hunt was a second-team pick, and defensive back James Swinyard an honorable mention. And there were plenty of talented juniors and sophomores stuck behind seniors last season.

But Kamiakin head coach Scott Biglin and veteran defensive coordinator Tim Maher will rely on the 'backers to be the cornerstone.

It's a role Umemoto has been growing into since he was tabbed to start as a sophomore. A role, perhaps, for which he was hand-picked.

"Maher always finds a young kid to kind of pick on," Biglin said. "When Zach was a sophomore, I think he got yelled at more by Maher than any kid I've seen get yelled at."

Funny thing, though. Those kids tend to go on to be some of the best defensive players.

"As a sophomore, I got yelled at a lot, but it made me how I am today," Umemoto said. "And now that we're seniors and captains, we can help out the younger guys."

Umemoto (6-foot, 195 pounds) and Oord (5-11, 210) are versatile athletes, equally comfortable patrolling the running lanes and covering slot receivers. Umemoto grew up playing hockey, while Oord is a slugging third baseman on the baseball team that finished fourth at state last spring.

Winning, Oord added, is a habit that carries over from sport to sport.

"You never take a win for granted," he said, "but once you start winning a lot, you start seeing that when you only win by a little, you did something wrong. But you can never take it lightly."

Opposing defenses should not take lightly the prospect of seeing the duo lining up together in the Braves' offensive backfield.

Umemoto was an honorable mention pick at running back last season after rushing for 337 yards and six touchdowns.

Oord, meanwhile, convinced Biglin that Kamiakin's high-flying, big-play offense needed a power balance. He got to see some time at fullback in the second half of last season, and it's a look that the Braves will feature more of this year behind a talented and deep offensive line.

"Plan on seeing a lot of it," Biglin said. "They're a great combo to have."

"It's pretty exciting with me and Umemoto back there," Oord said. "If they get past me, they still have to tackle him, and that's pretty tough."

Indeed, it may prove to be a common scene this season: The Braves hammer the ball down the field with the power run game, Oord laying out linebackers and Umemoto bowling over tacklers; then on the other side of the ball, they blow up ball carries and blind-side quarterbacks.

Now that is an encore.

* Kevin Anthony: 509-582-1403; kanthony@tricityherald.com