Knights hungry for victories after injury-riddled year | Football

Kamiak looks to 7 seniors to provide strong leadership
By David Pan | Aug 30, 2017
Photo by: David R Pan Kamiak junior quarterback Matt Merk drops back to pass during an intra-squad scrimmage at Kamiak High School.

In some ways, the Kamiak football team wants nothing more to do with the memories of the 2016 season.

The young Knights suffered through one of their more difficult years, not only in terms of wins and losses, but also with injuries. A Kamiak team already lacking in depth lost eight starters during the course of a season in which the Knights went 2-5 in the Wesco 4A and finished 4-6 overall.

“One of the things that we took from last year is that we’re not promised tomorrow,” Kamiak coach Dan Mack said. “Every day is a gift. … That’s why they call it the present.”

Even with the seeming non-stop string of injuries, the Knights showed resiliency by beating Cascade (31-26) and Inglemoor (35-28) in the final two games of the season. Kamiak also had second-half leads in two closes losses to district rival Mariner (22-12) and Jackson (34-33).

“We competed. We had two strong wins against Inglemoor and Cascade,” Mack said. “I think just the power of team showed up. We stayed together and fought through and finished the season.”

Two of the starters who suffered serious injuries in 2016 included senior running back Ben Barton and junior quarterback Matt Merk. Barton broke his leg in the third game of the year against Monroe and watched the rest of the season from the sidelines. Merk tore his ACL in the final regular season game. Both are now healthy.

“I’ve never been this hungry to have success,” said Barton, who also plays linebacker. “I think we’ve had a better offseason than we’ve had in the past. I think practices are going well … We have good senior leadership this year.”

Mack is also impressed by what he’s seen from his senior leaders. The Kamiak coach decided to designate seven team captains this year, the most in Mack’s 14 years at the school.

“It always comes down to your senior leadership and we have great leaders on this team,” Mack said. “This team is a really tight bunch of guys. They care about each other. … They’re so close in ability that we decided to have seven captains this year.”

The senior captains are wide receiver/defensive back Matarr Saine, wide receiver/defensive back Joseph Prikhodko, lineman Austin Pomada, lineman Andrew Murphy, lineman Steven Do, running back/linebacker Hiram Grayson and Barton.

“It’s very unique,” Mack added. “It’s the first-time ever.”

Merk will be ready for this week’s season opener (7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 31) against Bishop Blanchet at Goddard Stadium.

“He’s doing very well,” Mack said of his junior signal-caller. “He’s throwing the ball well.”

It’s not surprising to Barton that Merk is ready to hit the gridiron nine months after a serious knee injury.

“He was working hard rehabbing,” Barton said. “He did physical therapy. Every time I asked, ‘Are you going to come work out?’ He said. ‘I would, but I have physical therapy.’ He was in there a lot, working hard to recover.”

Merk should have plenty of wide receivers and running backs to target with Prikhodko, Saine, Barton, Grayson, senior Xavier Henshaw, junior Hunter Bollschweiler and senior Jordan Meyer, a basketball player.

“I like our team speed,” Mack said. “We have some kids that run very well this year. We’re not big, but I think we have a little bit more overall team speed than we had last year.”

The defense has a little bit more returning experience and like the offense should be quick.

“We’re not physically a very big team, but we play fast,” Mack said. The kids are very astute. Our intellect with this team is one of the bright spots.”

Most of the defense is coming in with some varsity experience, Barton said. “That experience is going to be crucial in our performance. I’m excited about that.”

A byproduct of last year’s injuries is that a lot of underclassmen, who normally might not have seen much varsity action, were called on to play. Grayson said that playing time should benefit those individuals this season.

“They are ahead of the curve,” Grayson said. “Usually most coaches aren’t looking to play sophomores. When the injury bug happened, a lot of seniors were taken out.”

The younger players may have had some trepidation, but they went out and did their jobs, Grayson noted.

“It was for the good of the team,” he said. “A lot of them got better. I can trust all of these guys around me. I know they can play at that level. They all got experience.”

Barton stressed that staying healthy is going to be important for the Knights as depth is an issue. The players need to take personal responsibility, he added.

“Staying healthy means getting a good night’s sleep. It means eating well, stretching before practice,” Barton said. “We all need to stay focused and be efficient with that.”

Barton also said that the Knights need to stay consistent through all four quarters.

“We had a hard time finishing last year,” he said. “We’re conditioning more this year because that’s when the fourth quarter comes into play.”

Grayson is convinced the returning players have learned from last season.

“This year it’s going to be different,” he said. “Our motto is finish the day. We’ve got to finish what we start.”

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