Sports

`Are you ready for some football!" - Islanders begin season at Qwest Field on Monday night

By Matt Phelps

The Seahawks are the first thing that comes to most peoples' minds when they hear about Monday night football at Seattle's Qwest Field. On Labor Day, however, the Islanders will apply the NFL's slogan ``Are you ready for some football?'' to its own high school team.

The Mercer Island High School football team will take on South Kitsap during a preseason battle in the house that Mercer Island resident and Seahawks owner Paul Allen built. A couple of other Islanders play at the field regularly: Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren and fullback Mack Strong.

``Its a lot of work and their are security issues with the stadium, but from the kids' point of view it is a big deal to get to play there,'' said Mercer Island High School football head coach Dick Nicholl. ``It builds excitement for the season and the team.''

The game is slated to kickoff at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 6, as the 3A Islanders take on a big challenge in a professional environment. Big is the operative word, as 4A level South Kitsap is the biggest high school in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. The Wolves finished the 2004 regular season at 4-6.

The game will be a part of the third annual Emerald City Kickoff Classic and will be one of five games played that day.

``It is a unique venue and an exciting way to start off the season,'' said Mercer Island High School athletic director Craig Olson. ``It is just a great way to highlight prep sports. I think we were picked because we always have a great community following.''

Other games that day will include Wenatchee High School against White River at 9:30 a.m., Evergreen High School against Farris High School at noon, and Gonzaga Prep against Bellermine Prep at 3 p.m. The featured game will be Issaquah High School against Mission Viejo from California at 5:30 p.m.

``They invite different teams every year,'' said Nicholl. ``They always pick good teams so it should be a good game.''

Along with making memories for a lifetime by holding the game at Qwest Field, the event also has the potential to make for some jittery athletes.

``The wheels can come off in a hurry,'' said Nicholl. ``The kids can be a bit starstruck but I am sure that they will keep their poise and be focused on the job at hand.''

Both teams will have to deal with a completely different environment than they are used to.

``It is a large stadium, but we have to keep in mind that this is just the first of three non-league games we will play,'' said Nicholl.

One factor that Nicholl has learned from talking to other high school coaches that have played at Qwest Field is that some teams have a tough time getting excited for the next week's game. The transition can be tough with the high excitement level of playing in a huge stadium and then turning around and going back to a high school environment.

``Sometimes there is just too much emphasis because it is in a big environment,'' said Nicholl.

The second preseason game will be even tougher for Mercer Island than normal as it plays again on Friday, Sept. 9, just five days later. The game will be at 4A level Anacortes High School, a three-hour bus ride from Mercer Island.

High school games are usually played on Fridays or Saturdays, but a scheduling conflict with Qwest Field pushed the games back until next Monday. The Seahawks play the Minnesota Vikings on Friday, Sept. 2, and the University of Washington kicks off its season Saturday, Sept. 3, against Air Force. The schedule made it impossible for the Islanders' original opponent, Prosser High School, to attend.

Along with Issaquah and Mercer Island, Bellevue High School will also play a non-league game at Qwest Field against Long Beach Poly on Sept. 16 at 8 p.m.

``This is a neat deal for 3A KingCo and a lot of publicity,'' said Nicholl.

Tickets for the day-long Emerald City Kickoff Classic can be purchased through the Mercer Island High School athletic department by calling 206-236-3386. Non-reserved general admission tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for students.

Look for the full Mercer Island High School fall season sports preview, including a preview of the 2005 football team, in next weeks issue of the Reporter.

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