Ross Filkins stood at midfield Friday night, his Peninsula High School football players scattered in organized drills in each corner. Behind the head coach’s dark sunglasses, he continued to watch the progress of teenage boys to young men.
Despite the wins and losses — there have been plenty of both during his 18-year tenure — Filkins is most proud of what his players become.
It’s a relatively new focus, spearheaded by the entire Seahawks coaching staff, that puts an emphasis on the time they spend with each student-athlete.
“Eight years ago, we just weren’t getting what we wanted,” he said. “I wasn’t comfortable with how we were taking care of kids.”
Now, as Peninsula gets ready for its season opener at Bellarmine Prep on Sept. 6, everything is starting to come together, from the Peninsula Youth Football program, to weight training and the lessons coaches teach the players.
Filkins and Steve Levenseller, the team’s offensive coordinator, have led the charge. Levenseller has been involved with football for 47 consecutive years — 20 with Peninsula High — and only a short break in service with the Seahawks to coach his sons at Curtis High in University Place.
It hasn’t always been easy in Purdy, though. Filkins, who played defensive end at Washington State, got the job not too long after he left Pullman. He was in his mid-20s, fresh-faced and hungry to win.
“I didn’t even know what I didn’t know,” he joked.
While the Peninsula program never sat at the bottom of the barrel, it often had trouble with upper-echelon teams in its own league. Lakes and White River were traditional powers in the former Seamount League, and Enumclaw and Bonney Lake bring different styles to the South Puget Sound League’s 3A classification, where Peninsula currently plays.
In the bigger picture, the elephant in the room is Bellevue, one of the most dominant programs in the country.
Peninsula coaches took a look at some of the more successful schools to dissect how they do it year after year. One thing they found was to start at the youth level and have them run the same offense they do under the lights on Friday nights.
“We audited everything we did,” Filkins said about the change in the program nearly a decade ago. “We totally invested in coaching every kid.”
The focus goes well beyond the varsity level.
“We I first got here in the ’90s, the freshmen almost never won,” Filkins said. “It was almost a rite of passage to go through that.”
The total-team approach has produced stunning results in the past seven years with a combined record of 170-37-2 between freshman, junior varsity and varsity squads.
“We make that commitment to them, to really focus on all three teams,” Filkins said. “The scoreboard becomes more of a byproduct of what we do.”
CHARACTER, DISCIPLINE, ACCOUNTABILITY
Filkins points to Levenseller and credits the athletic performance class he teaches at the school with one of the reasons for success.
“What we’re trying to do is to develop the athlete, focusing on development through the feet to the core,” Levenseller said. “It’s not super power lifting, but it tests them and helps them become more physically, mentally tough.”
It’s all part of the plan to instill character through discipline and accountability, Filkins said.
“What we do is more than blocking and tackling,” he said.
The Seahawks are seeing the results on the field. They went 9-3 last season, won the league championship and beat Lakes for the first time in school history. Peninsula went on to clobber Nathan Hale 45-0 in the first round of the state tournament — its first win at that level since 1992 — before its season came to an end in a quarterfinal matchup with Bellevue.
The Seahawks lost 19 of 22 starters to graduation, but Filkins points to the system and expects new players to step into roles in which they’ve already gained valuable experience.
Junior Robert Kvinsland will take the keys as the starting quarterback to replace Filkins’ son, Austin, who is going to school at WSU. Kvinsland will run an offense that’s changed just as much as the overall program throughout the years — at first glance, at least.
“It’s an accumulation of ideas over 30 years,” said Levenseller, whose brother, Mike, was the offensive coordinator for several seasons at Washington State.
Peninsula initially ran a form of the wing-T under Filkins, but it’s evolved throughout the years to include many different formations.
The wing-T is gone — the Seahawks now primarily run out of the shotgun — but some of the concepts remain.
“We’re trying to take advantage of some of the speed we’re developing,” Levenseller said.
But the formation hasn’t really mattered as long as Levenseller has been behind the controls, Filkins said.
“We were in the top five in the state (in offense) last year, and the year before — in a completely different offense — we were still in the top five,” Filkins said. “We’ve been consistent there regardless of what we’ve run.”
Levenseller broke down the keys to any top-notch offense.
“We have to not have turnovers, penalties or sacks, and we can’t have flyby blocks where we miss a guy,” he said. “If we come up zeroes in those categories, we’re usually successful.”
Peninsula coaches often go through their own series of unity activities. Sometimes it’s a simple as wearing a piece of tape around a specific finger, Filkins said. Often, the players try to figure out what they’re doing.
“It’s an awesome group of guys,” Levenseller said.
“You have to look at the top — and the kids are the top,” he added. “We have good kids, quality parents and an excellent staff. It’s really an extension of the school.”
Peninsula At a glance
• Head coach: Ross Filkins, 19th season
• Last year: 9-3, won Class 3A South Puget Sound League championship, reached state quarterfinal round after first state win since 1992.
• Key losses: Seahawks graduated 24 seniors, 19 of whom were starters.
• Key returners: Robert Kvinsland, jr., QB; Michael Garrison, sr., OL/DL; Zach Howard, sr., DL; Ben Smith, sr., OLB; Noah Hanks, sr., DB; Ian Hodge, sr., WR/DB; Will Hopkins, sr., WR/DB; Jack Andrews, sr., LB; Major Ali, jr., RB/DL.
• What to watch for: Receiving corps. “They can call catch it, they’re fast, and they can all run with it after they catch it,” offensive coordinator Steve Levenseller said.
• Biggest games: at Gig Harbor on Sept. 13 (Fish Bowl), at Bonney Lake on Oct. 4 and at Lakes on Nov. 1. Seahawks’ schedule
Sept. 6at Bellarmine Prep7 p.m.
Sept. 13at Gig Harbor7 p.m.
Sept. 20at Union5 p.m.
Sept. 27Mountain View7 p.m.
Oct. 4at Bonney Lake7 p.m.
Oct. 11Auburn Mountainview7 p.m.
Oct. 18Decatur7 p.m.
Oct. 25at Enumclaw7 p.m.
Nov. 1at Lakes7 p.m.