Yesterday, we received a nice email from a reporter, Josh Suman, who covers the Bellevue Wolverines for the Bellevue Reporter newspaper, asking us for our thoughts about this week’s WIAA 3A state semifinal football playoff clash at the Tacoma Dome between the Mount Si Wildcats and Bellevue. Your editor sent him our thoughts, and you can see those here at the Bellevue Reporter’s website. Suman also offered to share his thoughts on Bellevue, and we took him up on his offer. Below is a email interview we did with Suman where we talk about, among other things, Wolverines star Budda Baker, penalties, and the impact of national attention on the Bellevue program, something which Mount Si baseball fans were used to this spring as you will remember. Suman’s thoughts after the break, and if you have anything you want to know about Bellevue, send us an email and we’ll check with him for his thoughts. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
SVSJ: Talk about Bellevue’s season thus far.
SUMAN: The record obviously speaks for itself and the fact they are after a fifth straight title has been the backdrop to the entire year with the F25 mantra. They have played a pair of marquee teams to open the past two seasons and beat both, which has served doubly as motivation in the offseason and a reminder of how important it is to move on quickly once the regular season begins. The conference slate was more of the same and did nothing other than reinforce the notion that this is the top team in Class 3A, the state of Washington and one that would hold its own against anyone in America.
SVSJ: Following that October 12 matchup with Mount Si, what was the Bellevue reaction to how things went?
SUMAN: As much as Mount Si people are going to hate to hear this, it was pretty standard for a regular season game. I know some people had built the game up, but Bellevue was looking at it more as another brick in the wall than this season’s version of the Game of the Year as some people made it out to be. They went through the same thing against Lakes last year in the quarterfinals and people like us are always talking about how important one game is, but like all consistently successful endeavors, they simply don’t buy into all that.
SVSJ: Budda Baker scored three touchdowns in that earlier game between the two teams. How has he fared since then?
SUMAN: I’ve been told by more than one person in the Bellevue program, even last year, that Budda could be the best player to ever put on the Bellevue uniform. Personally, I was around for the program’s first run of titles and have seen the talent grow in many ways since then, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a kid as dynamic as him. With the offense they run and opposing team’s propensity to go away from him in the passing game, and kick away from him in the special teams game, his numbers aren’t even close to his talent and impact.
SVSJ: Penalties were a big issue for Bellevue in that game, especially on that one drive in the second quarter where Mount Si scored their first points of the contest. Are the number of penalties per game a concern for Butch Goncharoff and what are he and his coaches doing to try to fix that?
SUMAN: Flags are always a concern and I’m sure it has remained a point of emphasis. If they find themselves in a close game, it could definitely be something to pay attention to.
SVSJ: What’s the mindset of the Wolverines going into this game?
SUMAN: Playing well in the Tacoma Dome is a huge point of pride within the program and that is no different this time around. These kids look at it the same as everyone who plays prep sports: they want to win the state title as seniors, first and foremost. Sending out a group of seniors without that ring is just not something I think these guys let even cross their minds.
SVSJ: Talk about some other players that Mount Si fans should pay attention to in the game.
SUMAN: When Mount Si has the ball, Marcus Griffin on the line and Sean Constantine at linebacker have been making a lot of noise. One thing I would tell people to watch when Bellevue has the ball is their offensive guards and center- the precision in their get-off and ability to move in tight spaces and in close proximity to one another while opening sizable running lanes is my favorite part of watching them operate the Wing-T. Find the guards and you have a chance to find the ball.
SVSJ: How has the national attention the Bellevue program has received this fall impacted the team and its players?
SUMAN: Kids are kids and there is no doubt they know about the national rankings and chatter about their status among the best in America. That being said, they also aren’t naïve enough to think that is a product of anything other than sustained success. Bellevue knows this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately kind of deal, and I think they genuinely enjoy and savor every chance they get to play together.
SVSJ: Any other things worth mentioning:
SUMAN: The outcome of this game is not a foregone conclusion. There are ways this team can be attacked and exposed, but finding the personnel, opportunity and then executing in that moment are as big a challenge as a prep team can face. I know the guys on that staff going way back, and they are smart cats. Eric Riley is as sharp a guy as I’ve ever been around in football and the passion those other assistants like Randy Griffin and the rest bring is outstanding. Coach Kinnune’s pedigree is all you could ever hope for and I think this group of seniors for the Wildcats still believes something special is possible. If they can find a way to get a quick score, a cheap score, and two sustained drives that end in points, Mount Si can limit Bellevue possessions and win this game. Those are exactly the things the Wolverines used to beat them earlier this year with the quick strike from Baker on the first drive, the not-quite-down run from Myles Jack later in the half and the two drives that ended in John Nguyen touchdowns. Limit the mistakes, keep grinding out every single play and don’t look up until the clock hits zero and hey, stranger things have happened.