SVSJ preview: Mount Si football embarks on new voyage, one with vastly more challenges than previous one

EDITOR’S NOTE: This morning, we officially kick off our 2014-15 high school sports coverage in the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. In the coming days, we will have previews from selected fall teams from both Mount Si and Cedarcrest High Schools, as they get their sports seasons underway. Look for those previews, and all the coverage of local high school sports you need, here at the Journal. We start today with a very detailed look at Mount Si High School football, as it starts a new era this fall – as a member of Kingco 4A.

Mount Si High School’s football program, like all sports programs at the school, enters a new era this school year. Reclassifcation changes instituted by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the governing organization for high school sports in our state, moved Mount Si from the 3A classification, where it had been since the 1990’s, into the 4A classification starting this fall. The Wildcats will be competing in the Kingco 4A conference, and that means renewed rivalries with some schools, and new ones with others. Head coach Charlie Kinnune, back for his 23rd season at the helm, is now the longest-serving current head coach at any Kingco school, and he expects fans will see a big difference this fall. He also hopes fans will come and support the team.

Mount Si High School football players run a play during their annual preseason "Scarlet and Gray" game last Friday. The Wildcats, after spending nearly 20 years as a member of the Kingco 3A conference, are the newest members of the Kingco 4A league this fall. (Photo courtesy Calder Productions)

Mount Si High School football players run a play during their annual preseason “Scarlet and Gray” game last Friday. The Wildcats, after spending nearly 20 years as a member of the Kingco 3A conference, are the newest members of the Kingco 4A league this fall. (Photo courtesy Calder Productions)

“I think our fans who come to our home games are going to see much better teams every Friday night,” Kinnune said. “I think that the last couple of years of the major blowouts are over. We’re going to be in real tough games and we’re going to really need every voice we can get at our games. We’re really going to need it.”

The league this fall, as it usually is every season, is loaded with top teams. Coming into the season ranked as the top 4A team in the state is the Bothell Cougars, coached by former Mount Si assistant Tom Bainter, and also in the preseason top five rankings is another Kingco 4A team, the Skyline Spartans. Where does Mount Si fit into this picture? Well, with some of the returning talent this team has, they should be in position to be competitive in every ballgame. Whether they win or not is anyone’s guess, but they’ll certainly give it their 110% best.

Leading the way is senior quarterback Jonathan “Jo Jo” Hillel. Hillel, who served as the backup last season for now-graduated Nick Mitchell, is considered to be among the top senior high school quarterback prospects in the state by the Northwest Elite Index website and will be joining the growing list of Wildcats playing football at the college level. “We have real high expectations of Jo Jo,” Kinnune said. “He had had a great offseason. He’s gained weight, he is a playmaker, he’s waited his turn. He could have been a starter on any team in our league last year.” The coach added, “I think he’s really excited about showing people what he can do. He’s still only 16 years old.”

Also leading the way is senior lineman Chris Schlicting. Schlicting will look to lead an always strong, physical line, both on offense and defense, and he will be able to do that without the distractions of his college recruitment process; as both this blog and NEI have mentioned, Schlicting has verbally committed to play football next season for the University of Montana. Kinnune is excited to have Schlicting back this season. “He is our leader and he’s had a great couple of years for us,” the coach said.

Some other players to keep an eye on are in the junior class. Parker Dumas could be an impact receiver for the team this fall, and he’s excited about the season ahead and the new challenges he will face on the field. “I think it’s going to be a little different taste of football,” Dumas said. “There’s going to be some bigger kids out there.”

Also names to keep an eye on from the class of 2016 are players such as Colton Swain, Reid Lutz and Caleb Mitchell. A name that fans might hear more about soon depending on what the SeaKing District decides regarding his eligibility is transfer O.J. Jenkins. Jenkins has joined the program after playing last season at Tahoma High School in Maple Valley, but he is currently going through the normal eligibility appeal process at the SeaKing level. A hearing is scheduled for this week, and if the district permits him to compete, he should be on the field perhaps as soon as this Friday night when the Wildcats open their season at home against Woodinville.

There are also some changes in the coaching ranks, as Mount Si welcomes back a familiar face to be a part of their coaching staff. Former tight end and defensive stalwart Alex Hiebert, who graduated in 2009 from the school, is back to help as an assistant coach after playing four successful college seasons at Humboldt State University in California, then parlaying that into a short stint playing professionally in Europe. The Ames Lake product is proud to be back home. “I’ve been lucky enough to play a bunch of different places throughout my career and I’m just so happy to be back,” he said. Hiebert had many great moments as a Wildcat player, but his biggest moment perhaps came when he was a sophomore in 2006, when he intercepted a ball and returned it for a touchdown late in a state playoff game with Camas, locking up an emotional – and historic – 28-7 win that came amidst serious flooding in the Valley, and was the first state football playoff win in school history.

With the changes to 4A, and immediate rise in the level of competition in every opponent Mount Si will face, gone will be the guaranteed blowout games against such foes as Sammamish and Lake Washington, which have been used in the past few seasons to give younger players ample amounts of quality playing time, and which likely has been a big factor in helping make the Wildcat program among the elite programs at the high school level in Washington. Kinnune anticipates not much change in how his program develops younger athletes. “Well, we have to continue to prepare our kids as always. We think we do a very nice job of developing our athletes, so we will continue to develop our athletes, the younger kids might not be getting the varsity action that they’ve gotten in the past,” the coach said.

Kinnune also thinks health of his players will be a big factor. “It also puts a premium on injuries and the lack of injuries. We’re going to need to stay healthy,” he said. “If we can stay healthy I think we can compete with everybody in the league.” Mount Si’s medical staff is led by trainer Lauren Brown, and she will have a staff of several student athletic trainers on hand this fall at games to aid players. Their team doctor is Issaquah-based John Nowicki, and the Wildcats also will once again have the services of physical therapist John Zanas this fall. Their medical room is among the top ones in the entire league, so Mount Si players will be well taken-care of if injuries become an issue throughout the season.

Mount Si head football coach Charlie Kinnune is back for his 23rd season at the school. The 2013 SeaKing District football  Coach of the Year is now the longest-serving current head coach of any football program within the Kingco Conference. (Photo courtesy Calder Productions)

Mount Si head football coach Charlie Kinnune is back for his 23rd season at the school. The 2013 SeaKing District football
Coach of the Year is now the longest-serving current head coach of any football program within the Kingco Conference. (Photo courtesy Calder Productions)

This 23rd season for Kinnune, as noted previously, makes him the longest-serving current head coach at any Kingco high school, more commonly known as the ‘dean of coaches.’ Add in the coach of the year award he received earlier this year from the SeaKing District for last season, when his team went 9-2 and made it once again to the state playoffs, and you can see why the coach is so well-liked and respected, not just by his peers, but by his community. “Well, I think as far as the school is concerned, which is my major concern, I feel like the people of this community generally support the football program because they like what’s going on,” Kinnune said.

The season looks to be an interesting one, if for no other reason than it is the maiden voyage of the Wildcats into 4A, and the coach thinks that fans should look for more of this in the future. “I personally think we’re in 4A to stay,” he said.

Kinnune has this message for fans. “We want to welcome the 4A schools to Mount Si High School and show them what we’re all about. Our football program and our stadium and our facilities are the greatest ambassadors of our community at this time of the year, and I just appeal to everybody to come out and spend their seven dollars and come out and watch great entertainment,” he said.

All games this season will start at 7:00 p.m., and home games are at Mount Si High School’s stadium, 8651 Meadowbrook Way SE in Snoqualmie. A schedule is available at the Wildcat football team’s website, which you can see at right in our news links.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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