Capital football preview: Kennedy, Rieta ready to carry load

Pals Conner Kennedy, Ryan Rieta will be mainstays in Capital’s backfield, replacing Kai Van Sickle

mwochnick@theolympian.comSeptember 4, 2013 

OLYMPIA — The Capital Cougars feature a new offense, a practically new offensive line, and a new backfield (sort of).

The best way for the Cougars to replace a record-setting tailback who ran for 2,774 rushing yards – a Washington single-season rushing record, is to plug a new tailback into the system.

Enter Conner Kennedy and Ryan Rieta.

With this pair – friends since their youth football days – you can’t talk about one without the other and how well they complement each other.

“We’ve grown to work together,” Kennedy said. “In seventh grade, he became the fullback and me as the halfback. That’s when we came close together.”

Seventh-year coach J.D. Johnson described his tandem like this: Rieta as a “phenomenal blocker” and Kennedy as “more of a quick runner.” Regardless of who’s carrying the ball in the Cougars’ newly established wing-T offense, they will march down the field.

“You can run one or run the other, but you are going to get the same result,” Johnson said. “You feel good about putting the ball in their hands.”

Letterwinners since their freshman seasons, Kennedy and Rieta combined for 1,102 rushing yards last season, including 173 yards and two touchdowns by Kennedy when Kai

Van Sickle missed Capital’s 19-0 win over Olympia in the Spaghetti Bowl.

Kennedy and Rieta aren’t trying to be the next Van Sickle, who graduated and is playing football at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., after his record-setting final high school season (2,774 rushing yards, 40 touchdowns in 12 games in 2012). They want to establish their own identities with the running game, but they did learn tricks of the trade from their former teammate over the previous two seasons.

The biggest thing was being humble.

“He always gave us credit when we blocked for him, and gave the line credit,” Rieta said. ‘We want to take that with us.”

The backfield has been a big stage for Capital since Johnson’s arrival in 2007, producing some of the area’s – and the state’s – top tailbacks. There was Riley Wall (1,570 yards, 16 TDs in 2008), now a starting linebacker at Central Washington; Tyler Sundberg (a combined 4,100 yards, 60 TDs in 2009-10), the Class 3A’s state player of the year as a senior, and most recently, Van Sickle, who ran for 4,677 yards and scored 55 touchdowns over the past two seasons.

Wall, Sundberg and Van Sickle combined for 10,347 rushing yards over the past five seasons.

But don’t expect the rushing game to slow down with the wing-T, an offense not new to Capital’s football history.

The majority of former longtime coach Wayne Sortun’s 138 wins came after he installed the wing-T in the early 1990s, and his Cougars won state titles in 1996 and ’98. That success is what this year’s team is looking for. Last year’s Class 2A state semifinal appearance was the program’s third in the past five years.

“We’ll see what happens,” Kennedy said.

About the COUGARS

Coach: J.D. Johnson, seventh year

2012: 10-3, second in league; lost in 2A semifinals

Offense: Coordinator (set) — Arne Jensen (multiple); returning starters – 5.

Top players: WR Brian Davidson, 5-9, 170, sr.; OL Riley Haub-McElreath, 6-4, 255, sr.; RB Conner Kennedy, 5-9, 170, jr.; WR Michael Randall, 6-0, 180, sr.; RB Ryan Rieta, 5-9, 180, jr.

Defense: Coordinator (set) — Johnson (3-5-3); returning starters — 4.

Top players: DB Jacob Johnson, 5-11, 185, jr.; LB Jakob Racimo, 6-0, 215, sr.; DL Huy Vu, 5-10, 240, sr.; DB Brian Davidson, 5-9, 170, sr.

Outlook: After three state semifinal appearances in the past five seasons using a pro-style offense, the Cougars are switching to an offense (wing-T) that won them state titles in 1996 and ’98 under then-coach Wayne Sortun. ... Sophomore Cody Jenkins, whom Johnson called “a leader by nature,” is promoted to starting quarterback after spending his freshman year on the junior varsity. ... Capital’s 52 victories since 2007 is the second-most of any Thurston County program.


All games at 7 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 6: NEWPORT

Friday, Sept. 13: at Olympia

Saturday, Sept. 21: at Bothell

Friday, Sept. 27: at Tumwater *

Friday, Oct. 4: CENTRALIA *

Friday, Oct. 11: N. THURSTON

Friday, Oct. 18: at Black Hills *

Friday, Oct. 25: W.F. WEST *

Friday, Nov. 1: at River Ridge *

Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 * Denotes 2A Evergreen Conference game; home games (Ingersoll Stadium) in CAPS

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