Shaun Scott, staff photo Mercer Island kicker Jack Clayville connects on a field goal during practice on Aug. 22 at Mercer Island High School in Mercer Island.

Islanders football squad focuses on the details

Mercer Island head football coach Ed Slezinger knows how important special teams are in order to have success on the gridiron.

Slezinger, who is in his first season as head coach of the Islanders, intensely focused on special teams during the second week of practice on a 90-degree afternoon on Aug. 22.

“It is extremely important to us. It is cliche to say its one-third of the game but it is one-third of the game and we’re going to use that to our advantage. We have specific goals in mind. Obviously special teams in particular can really change the dynamic of the game. It is a high priority for us,” Slezinger explained.

He said the Islanders possess a team camaraderie that will help his squad when they inevitably face adversity on the gridiron this fall.

“It is a fantastic group of kids. The whole idea we (coaching staff) had of building men of character is really starting to take stride and its evident on the field. The players are coming together as a unit and are really supporting each other. That is going to pay dividends during games,” he said.

The Islanders possess an abundance of prolific players at a wide assortment of positions. Quarterback Nikhil Nayer, wide receiver Cole Miller, lineman Jaeden Pritchard, offensive tackle/defensive end Aksel Turk, kicker Jack Clayville and safety/receiver Giovanni Cervantes-Rocha will be prominent players on the roster this season. Turk, who is an imposing figure courtesy of his 6-foot, 6-inch, 240-pound frame, has high expectations for his team.

“I’m optimistic on how the season is going to play out. This year the goal is definitely win KingCo (3A Division) and make it far in the playoffs,” Turk said.

Turk said he initially wanted to be tight end but has grown to love playing in the trenches.

“It is very underrated. It is fun because you have contact on every play and get to shove people around. I really found a home at tackle,” he said. “It really helps having long arms so I can get to the defensive players before they can get around me.”

Pritchard, who also plays on the offensive line, thinks his squad will go further than they did in 2016. The Islanders lost to the Bonney Lake Panthers in the first round of the playoffs.

“We have leaders on this team like Nikhil (Nayar) and Cole (Miller) who are playmakers. Nikhil is a really smart quarterback. I love blocking for him. We have these new formations where I move to fullback but he doesn’t really like it that much because he wants me on the line so I can protect him,” Pritchard said with a smile.

Cervantes-Rocha said the Islanders pushed themselves together over the summer during formidable workout sessions.

“A lot of our players showed up in the offseason. We had way more numbers than we did last year. I’m looking forward to this year and how our defenses match up with all of these offense. I think our defense is going to do really well against teams running the spread or the Wing T. I think we will have surprises for Bellevue,” Cervantes-Rocha said.

Slezinger is excited for the season opener against the West Valley Rams in Yakima on Sept. 1.

“The guys are quite ready to get to West Valley and get to work,” he said.