Music pulsated from the speakers at the Mercer Island High School stadium as members of the Islanders football team pushed themselves through conditioning exercises on a sunny Wednesday afternoon on the island.
Players plowed through agility drills and quarterbacks threw passes to wide receivers during a player led afternoon workout session on July 18. The Islanders, who finished the 2017 season with an overall record of 7-4, lost to the O’Dea Fighting Irish 55-21 in the first round of the Class 3A state playoffs. O’Dea eventually won the Class 3A state championship in December of 2017.
Islanders’ senior kicker/wide receiver Jack Clayville was thrilled to see his team make the state playoffs during his junior season.
“It was awesome. It was the first year in a while we’ve made a deep run like that. We showed a lot of promise. We have a lot of returning players and we’re hoping to do the same (advance to state playoffs) again this year,” Clayville said.
Islanders’ wide receiver Hunter Johnson concurred with Clayville’s sentiment.
“We’re just trying to go as far as we can. I think we can make a pretty deep run. A lot of people didn’t really take our year (2017 season) seriously for some reason. We are out here trying to prove to everybody that we’re a team that is going to be a menace in this league (KingCo 3A Division),” Johnson said. “Right now for us it is about building a team chemistry and building a foundation for this season.”
The Islanders have been pushing themselves in the weight room and with conditioning throughout the summer.
“We’ve been averaging 30 players a day in the weight room regularly. Things are looking really promising,” head coach Ed Slezinger said with a smile.
Slezinger said 24 players who will be freshmen this fall, have been regulars in the weight room the past month.
“We had 24 freshmen to be football players who have been showing up daily which was a wow moment for all of us. We had about nine players last year to put it in perspective. It has been great,” he said.
Slezinger, who will be in his second season leading the Islanders football program this season, said weight room attendance has been much better than spring football practice sessions were in late May/early June.
“Spring ball was challenging. We had a lot of our (spring) sports teams in the playoffs so we were missing a lot of key guys. We didn’t get a whole lot of reps with our 1s (starters) and 2s (backups) but the best part was we got a ton of work with the younger players and players we weren’t familiar with. There was a lot of new faces out there and it gave us a chance to do some early evaluations and start to build what we’re going to look like this year,” Slezinger said of spring ball.
The Islanders longtime starting signal caller Nikhil Nayar, who will play football the University of Idaho this fall, graduated this past June. Slezinger said three quarterbacks consisting of Liam Rogan, Clay Dippold and Nate Buchan are in a competition for the starting quarterback position. The Islanders will kickoff their first practice of the 2018 season on Aug. 15.
Slezinger is supremely confident in all three of the possible starters under center.
“They’re not gunslingers like Nikhil but they’ve got good arm strength, are fundamentally sound players and understand what we are trying to do offensively as far as our scheme goes,” Slezinger said.
Islanders’ linebacker Will Mulflur is confident the Islanders will have a successful 2018 season despite losing several of its key players including Jaeden Pritchard (offensive/defensive lineman), Spencer Luce (longsnapper), Gio Cervantes-Rocha (wide receiver) and Nayar to graduation.
“We lost a lot of seniors and are trying to build on what we did last year. We still have a lot of good players but will have to fill that senior leadership that we lost. There are a lot of players this year who are growing and will come into a leadership role. I think we’ll be ready to go repeat what we did last year,” Mulflur said.
One of the Islanders most talented returners to the gridiron this fall will be receiver/defensive back Cole Miller. Miller earned first team all-league honors last season as a wide receiver and kick returner.