Bulldogs JC football preps for inaugural season
August 30, 2013
By Christina Corrales-Toy
For most high school football athletes, their career on the gridiron ends when the last of the Friday night lights flicker to darkness.
Some go on to play the sport at the collegiate level and beyond, but that isn’t an option for the majority. The itch to get on the field, tackle an opponent and be a part of a unique brotherhood is not easily tossed aside, though.
The Bellevue Bulldogs junior college football team hopes to provide the relief to that itch, and encourage athletes to remain in school while continuing their career.
“The biggest issue is that when an individual gets out of high school, and maybe doesn’t have the grades or a scholarship to get into a four-year school, there was nothing in this area for him to play football, until now,” said Larry Rude, a Newcastle-area financial adviser and Bellevue Bulldogs trustee.
Led by head coach Kevin Bouwman, the first-year team features local players from various community colleges. It will compete in the Northwest Junior College Football League, playing against teams from across the state.
Though the team carries the mascot of Bellevue College, and most of its players attend the school, it is independent of the college, Bouwman said.
“We can’t be involved with the schools. They just don’t have the budget for it, for liability and all that,” he said.
A second chance to play
After graduating from Hazen High School in 2011, Reggie Havard, a running back and defensive back, sought to continue his football career at Mendocino College in Ukiah, Calif., before returning home to play locally for the Bulldogs.
“I went down there with some friends, and we got there and it was just too expensive,” he said.
Several of the players have similar stories, often returning from an out-of-state school because of the cost. It is just another reason why a local option like the Bulldogs is necessary, Bouwman said.
“This means everything,” Havard said of the Bulldogs. “It gives us another chance, that second chance.”
Many of the players are young men who likely did not obtain scholarships to a four-year college, had academic issues that prevented them from going to a university or physically matured at a different pace.
The athletes range in age from about 23 to fresh out of high school, like 2013 Liberty High School graduate Dalton Darlington.
Darlington, a defensive lineman, managed to stay healthy during the Patriots’ unlucky run of injuries last season, but he wasn’t ready to hang up his cleats after he graduated. He joined the Bulldogs after Liberty coach Steve Valach mentioned the opportunity.
“Playing under the Friday night lights is just so cool at Liberty and I wanted to continue my football career if I possibly could,” he said.
‘No kid is left behind’
The goal of most of these players is to play and get noticed by a four-year school willing to offer a scholarship, said Bouwman, who played college football himself, starting at linebacker for Utah State University.
“You ask any one of them and their aspirations are to go to that next level,” he said. “I will do everything I can to give them that opportunity.”
The team includes players from across the Puget Sound area, including Issaquah, Renton, Bellevue and Seattle. Athletes are required to take at least five credits of junior college coursework to join the team, though Bouwman suggests they take more.
“First and foremost, the goal is to get these guys in school,” he said. “I encourage them to be taking a full load, 12 credits at least, so that if that opportunity to go to the next level arises, they’re ready for it academically, too.”
As an independent team, the Bulldogs are solely responsible for their expenses. That includes uniforms, field time, referees and practice equipment, all amassing a tally of nearly $40,000 this season.
The Bulldogs officially began practicing in early August at Ringdall Middle School, the former site of Eastside Catholic High School, just outside of Newcastle. The field is rough, filled with ruts, but it is all the team can afford for now.
“We’re starting from scratch now,” Rude said. “The four trustees on the board have put in their own money to get this thing rolling, but we’re not really wealthy guys.”
The team is looking for sponsors to help with the costs, and every little bit helps, Rude said. The team could also use volunteers, coaches and fans, he added.
“We want to make sure no kid is left behind,” he said.
The Bellevue Bulldogs were set to kick off their season Aug. 31 against Kitsap Peninsula Junior College. Their first home game, held at Renton Memorial Stadium, is Sept. 22.
Donate, or become a sponsor, to the Bellevue Bulldogs junior college football team at www.bellevuejcfootball.com.