Auburn’s three high school football programs have much to prove this season as they try on new divisions for size in the 16-team North Puget Sound League.
Based on last year’s performances and much like English Premier League Soccer, teams either earned a promotion or dropped down a spot in the NPSL’s three-tiered system that was introduced a season ago.
Auburn Mountainview, which shared the NPSL’s second-tiered Valley Division title, despite a 3-7 record last season, moves up to the top-tiered Mountain Division this year against powerful company. Auburn Riverside and Auburn, which both struggled a year ago, have landed in the second-tiered Valley and third-tiered Sound divisions, respectively.
Coaches are just fine with the trail of tiers.
“I want to be where we are at … just let the chips fall where they may,” said second-year Auburn Riverside head coach Marcus Yzaguirre.
The Ravens look to bounce back from a 3-7, injury-riddled season. AR is a strong contender to capture the Valley title this fall.
“We’re where we are supposed to be. … There’s some good teams in there, good coaches,” Yzaguirre said. “Every game is going to be a battle.”
Auburn Riverside, the city series’ two-time defending Fugate Trophy holder, opens the season against Auburn Mountainview at 7 p.m. Friday at Auburn Memorial Stadium. Auburn travels to Tahoma.
Yzaguirre expects big things from one of his deeper, more explosive teams. The Ravens have the numbers – more than 80 players strong – to restock a varsity lineup.
“I hope we’ll be in the mix of things,” Yzaguirre said. “I don’t want to sound overly confident because last year we should have been really, really good and injuries killed us.
“We have some talent this year,” he added. “I’m excited for what’s to come.”
The Ravens will be stout up front, exceptional in the backfield and solid on defense.
Seniors Javon Forward, Jayden Solis and Foster transfer Arthur Tauiliili compose a formidable ground game. Forward and Solis – highly recruited players – anchor the defense.
Forward ran for nearly 800 yards and 13 touchdowns in four games last year before a high-ankle fracture derailed his season.
“If you ask me, he’s the best tailback in the state,” Yzaguirre said. “He’s just a good kid, a smart kid … 4.0. He gives us the ability to do so many different things.”
At Auburn Mountainview, coach Jared Gervais has welcomed 67 players, led by a talented group of seniors who grew up quickly as juniors. The Lions were down to their third quarterback last season. And playing without an experienced, healthy kicker, the Lions pulled off a two-point conversion to beat Hazen for a piece of the Valley title.
It was the Lions’ first football title of any kind in the program’s 14-year history. Auburn Mountainview has reached the postseason for five straight seasons and in seven of the eight autumns under Gervais.
“It was a great experience,” Gervais said, “and we’re building on it.”
The Lions welcome back eight starters on offense, led by quarterback Drew Davenport who has recovered from a torn ACL that cut short his junior season. The Lions also return plenty of possibilities at wide-out, including all-purpose playmaker Cooper White, and one of the league’s top linemen in Anthony Wayman.
Auburn Mountainview returns seven starters on defense who will trigger coordinator Kent Rodseth’s 3-3 stack attack.
At Auburn, second-year head coach Aaron Chantler and his staff are working with about 60 players. The Trojans, like their rivals, vow to improve on last year’s 2-8 finish.
“We’re definitely young,” Chantler said of his group, which is heavy with sophomores. “Hopefully, they’ll learn quickly. Down the road we think they can be pretty good. It’s about how fast they are able to grow up and mature.”
Power back and top linebacker Ronna Brown is back, as is versatile Connor Howat at wide receiver and defensive back. Keegan Yu returns with varsity experience at quarterback.
Up front, Isaiah Petelo and Marquis Phillips stand out.
“We’re real excited to see what Ronna can do this year,” Chantler said. “He runs hard, he’s physical. … I see a lot of growth in him … and he’s obviously our best defensive player.”
Howat blossomed during the second half of his sophomore season.
“He was like our Swiss Army Knife last year … that kid never came off the field,” Chantler said.
AT A GLANCE
Head coach: Marcus Yzaguirre, second season
Last year: 3-7
Top returners: Javon Forward (6-foot-1, 215 pounds), senior, running back, free safety; Jayden Solis (6-3, 220), senior, linebacker, running back; Lucas James (5-9, 170), junior, wide receiver, defensive back: Joel Guerro (5-foot-10, 250), senior, lineman; Rayma Kaio (6-2, 275), junior, lineman; Kone Aumua (6-1, 265), sophomore, lineman; Cade Foster (6-3, 210). senior, center, defensive end.
Top newcomers: Arthur Tauiliili (5-11, 195), senior, running back, strong safety; Arona Tauiliili (5-11, 205), junior, linebacker, fullback; Payton Acceturo (6-2, 210), sophomore, quarterback.
Team outlook: Good core group of players coming back. Three legitimate running backs and a strong defense. A top-two contender in the NPSL Valley Division.
Opener: vs. Auburn Mountainview, 7 p.m., Sept. 6
Head coach: Aaron Chantler, second season
Last year: 2-8
Top returners: Ronna Brown (6-1, 195), senior, running back, linebacker; Connor Howat (6-2, 180), junior, wide receiver, defensive back; Isaiah Petelo (6-4, 270) junior, lineman; Marquis Phillips (6-1, 185), junior, lineman; Zayah Sparks (5-11, 245), senior, running back, linebacker.
Top newcomers: Keegan Yu (5-11, 170), junior, quarterback, defensive back; Frank Lakisa (5-11, 175), sophomore, quarterback, defensive back; Jaylen White (6-0, 175), sophomore, wide receiver, defensive back; Eddie Carter (5-11, 170), sophomore, running back, defensive back; Tyreeq Reaves (6-0, 260), sophomore, lineman; Mark Savitsky (6-2, 180), junior, wide receiver, defensive back.
Team outlook: “Our team will be young, but the guys have worked hard and we are working on building the foundation. A lot of guys are going to get varsity experience this year, and that bodes well for the future.” – Chantler.
Opener: at Tahoma, 7 p.m., Sept. 6
Head coach: Jared Gervais, ninth year
Last season: 3-7
Top returners: Anthony Wayman (6-2, 295), senior, lineman; Cooper White (5-7, 155), senior, wide receiver, defensive back; Drew Davenport (5-10, 180), senior, quarterback, defensive back; Berkley Alfrey (6-0, 195), junior, running back; Nate Snell (5-11, 205), sr., lineman; Keanu Mailoto (6-3, 215), junior, defensive end; Teagin Child (5-10, 175), junior, free safety; Caden Reyes (5-11, 215), sr., linebacker; Viliamu Taimalelagi (5-10, 245), sr., lineman; Brandon Miguel (6-3, 175), sr., defensive back.
Team outlook: “Our wide receiver group on offense is very talented, and on defense our front seven will be very good.” – Gervais