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The unmistakable sound of a coach’s whistle, the distinct thud of football pads versus football pads and a chilly breeze, one could honestly believe on a gray day at Phil Pugh Stadium in Belfair that the high school football season was underway.

But take a closer look and you quickly realize the players underneath those pads aren’t boys. They are men playing a game that still enthralls them and gives them hope those Friday night lights won’t be turned off anytime soon.

Coach Aaron Rambo gives instruction during a recent Kitsap Storm practice at Phil Pugh Stadium in Belfair.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The Kitsap Storm adult league football team is in its fourth season following in the tradition of former franchises, the West Sound Orcas and Kitsap County Bears.

Owner and wide receivers coach Dave Baxter said the Storm, which plays in the Western Washington Football Alliance, uses their platform to help players out of high school who weren’t able to get any offers to play at the next level. 

“Our program is basically a developmental program, a platform to learn skills they need or improve their skills to move up to the next level should that be arena, college or CFL,” Storm head coach Aaron Rambo said. “That’s the main goal.”

Dave Baxter, owner and assistant coach for the Kitsap Storm watches a recent practice as Matt Christensen, right, looks on at Phil Pugh Stadium in Belfair.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

Rambo himself has coached most of his adult life — 18 years in the high school ranks and is currently coaching at West Seattle High — along with two years at the University of Puget Sound and at highly-touted Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, one of the premier junior colleges in the nation. He’s also the offensive coordinator for the Seattle Mist of the Legends League.

Baxter realized quickly there was no avenue for recent high school graduates to showcase their still-growing skills in a competitive environment in Kitsap. It’s how he was able to bring in Rambo and Kitsap area track and field/football coach Ron Atkins, linebacker coach Keimo Pelegri, and defensive line coach Frank Clair. Atkins serves as the team’s strength and conditioning coach.

Kitsap Storm assistant coach Ron Atkins keeps an eye on his players during a recent practice as Oliver buckets, middle, and Marcus-Allen Gans watch.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“We do have some really good coaches,” said defensive lineman Dada Washington. The Minneapolis native said Atkins might be the best pure athlete on the field on any given night. “He’s older than us and he’s faster than us. He competes at a high level. That just motivates me seeing what he does, helping us out and helping us grow.”

Dada Washington, a Minnesota native, plays defense for the Kitsap Storm football team.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

The blend of local and “over the bridge” coaches have led to a 4-1 start for the Storm who benefit from a large roster. Kitsap will host Portland in a WWFA divisional game Saturday at 6 p.m. at Kitsap Bank Stadium at South Kitsap High School. 

After two preseason losses in April, Kitsap won its opener, 43-20 over the Cowlitz Cobras in May. That was followed by three forfeit wins before the Storm suffered their first league loss to the South Sound Nighthawks 60-26 last week. 

While the lack of games isn’t ideal, Rambo said the Storm’s defense is the backbone as the offense plays catch up.

Kitsap Storm quarterback Brandon Pedersen throws during a recent practice at Phil Pugh Stadium in Belfair.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

“I would say the chemistry isn’t there yet,” Rambo said of the offense, “but once the chemistry does they’re going to be unstoppable.”

The coaches have reasons to be optimistic. For one, they have a deep roster in all positions. They have 16 linemen alone and the roster runs 70 players deep. That size comes from the flexibility allowed by the league, Rambo said, due to the number of Navy players they have.

“We keep ourselves fresh because we don’t have to go both ways,” Rambo said.  

Secondly, having local and regional coaches allows the Storm to draw from a larger pool of talent.

That includes former South Kitsap standout Marshaud DeWalt, a 2015 graduate. DeWalt put up over 1,000-yards rushing his senior season with nine touchdowns but didn’t get any offers or much interest post-high school.

Kitsap Storm running back Marshaud DeWalt, a 2015 South Kitsap graduate, is eyeing a longer future in football than he anticipated thanks to the Storm advocating for him to play in college.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

After “getting way out of shape and not doing anything with my life,” DeWalt decided enough was enough and he wanted to pursue football once again. He joined the team last season and finished with 167 yards on 33 carries in five games and two touchdowns. 

This season, DeWalt, who’s listed at 5-foot-7 and 240 pounds, played in the opener and rushed for 124 yards on eight attempts and scored twice. 

DeWalt is already getting attention from coaches at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, thanks to the coaching staff advocating for him. 

“It’s big time,” DeWalt said of the coaches sending off film on his behalf. “Honestly, on this side of the water, we don’t have a lot of guys pushing other players to go places. Honestly, it is a big factor.”

Kitsap Storm linemen Jeremy Tyler, left, and Alex Blanchard, go toe-to-toe during a recent practice at Phil Pugh Stadium in Belfair.
(Annette Griffus/West Sound SportsPlus)

DeWalt has been savoring being back on a team. The Storm has ignited his passion once again.

“I love every bit of it,” he said. “I wish we could practice every day.”

DeWalt said even if playing at Simon Fraser doesn’t work out, he now knows there are other opportunities out there.

“It opens your eyes actually,” he said. “I’ve always had hope but that really opened my eyes that yes, you really can do something.”

For Baxter, Rambo and the Kitsap Storm that is the ultimate win for the program.

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