Commentary: More work is needed, but Washington football on the right track

By NICK SLOAN, NJSloan212@gmail.com

For long-time readers of KCK Preps, you will know that I have not been the nicest person when it comes to Washington Wildcats football the last three years.

I wrote on the transfers that left the football program after last year - most notably De'Ante Ambler and Corey Smith. I defended both of those guys several times privately for their decisions.

During the summer, I also shared how dysfunctional last year's team was.

While I wasn't nice, I thought I was fair. When you see coaches argue with other coaches and players tare each other apart on the sidelines, you can't help but have a negative feeling about the direction of a program.

And for what it's worth, a few parents from last year's team thought I did not go far enough in being critical of Washington's football program.

However, in order for me to continue to be fair, I have to tip my hat to this year's Washington team for the progress they have made in three weeks.

It started this summer at 7-on-7 drills when the team was more positive and looked like they were enjoying football. It continued into the scrimmage when new head coach Bryan Salsgiver and his coaching staff put some young players in key positions.

While portions of the scrimmage were ugly, you could see there was more optimism with the players and the players actually wanted to be there and compete.

It appears this coaching staff at Washington understands the idea of playing their best players regardless of class and who they are. That's not always been the case at Washington High School the past three years.

After a bad loss to Topeka West High School in the second week of the season, this team could have quit. Topeka West had not won a game in the school's last 25 attempts. That loss could have blown a huge hole into the Washington ship.

It did not.

With Atchison starting 2-0 and shutting out Tonganoxie on the road in week two, I (and most of Northeast Kansas' football fans) believed the Redmen would make short work of the Wildcats.

As you well know, that did not happen, as Washington won 20-19.

There were stretches in the game that could have ended Washington's hopes for an upset. Allowing a last second touchdown on a hail mary in the first half could have been the punch in the gut.

(Without research, I'm pretty sure teams that complete hail mary's at the end of either half during games generally win 90 percent of the time.)

Instead, the Wildcats regained the lead.

Once Washington regained the lead, the defense made several great plays down the stretch. Clarence Buford and Kalem Harrison made two key interceptions to end Atchison drives that extended deep into Wildcat territory. Harrison's interception was in the end zone.

Speaking of Harrison, the sophomore has brought an immediate improvement to Washington's bad passing attack last year.

Last year in nine games, the Wildcats had four touchdown passes. This year through three games, Harrison has four touchdown passes.

While the sophomore's completion percentage is a little bit under 50 percent, it's still much higher than the 27 percent last year's quarterbacks were able to accomplish.

Harrison and wide receiver Lloyd Stanfield are quickly becoming one of the best QB-WR connections in the city. They have connected on touchdown passes in all three games this season for the Wildcats.

Stanfield has 255 yards on 10 receptions for the Wildcats, averaging an absurd 25.5 yards a catch. Last year's leader for the Wildcats in receptions had 10 and leader in receiving yardage at 294.

Yet, Stanfield is almost there just one-third of the way into the season.

Marvin Bowens is averaging over six yards a carry in the rushing attack for the Wildcats.

While Washington still has a ways to go in order to truly "restore the roar," they are on the right path.

The early success deserves to be noted and congratulations to the young Wildcats - with young describing both the coaching staff and players - on a nice victory Friday.