Recruiting Spotlight - Skyline Spartans

Skyline Spartans

SAMMAMISH, Wash. - Skyline's Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Chiles hadn't been to school in a week. He was with his family, preparing for another battle; his mother's uterine cancer had spread to her brain. He was doing everything he could, researching nutrition options and looking for answers.

In times of personal crisis, it can be helpful to find some comfort in work, and it was his job Thursday to get the Spartans working. It was there where he found an answer.

"Best Team Ever!" were the words that came out of quarterback Max Browne's mouth when Chiles was looking for some feedback, some thoughts as to what might drive Thursday's 90-minute strength and conditioning session.

"Best Team Ever!"

A smile moved quickly across Chiles' lips. That's what he needed to hear.

Those are three very powerful words at Skyline, a program that has won six Washington State football championships since 2000 - including four-straight 4A title appearances under the watch of head coach Mat Taylor.

"A lot of people think the '08 team was the best Skyline team ever," Browne said. Then he reeled off the names - Jake Heaps, Kasen Williams, Gino Simone, William Chandler, Jake Knecht, Anthony DeMatteo, Jase Butorac, Evan Day, Rob Tramonte - all playing in college right now. That was a special group.

But Taylor thinks the 2012 skill group, a class that includes Browne - Scout.com's No. 1 quarterback - Nic Sblendorio, Peyton Pelluer, Devin Benford, Trevor Barney, Isaiah Richmond, Andrew Giese, Brandon Crandall, Matt Sinatro, Jr. - as well as linemen like Neal Henderson, Eric Wagner, and Nick Strazis - could be as good as any he's seen on the Plateau. That is saying something. It revolves around the captains - Browne, Barney, Sblendorio and Pelluer.

"It's going to be hard to spread the ball around to all these guys," Taylor said. But he's going to try.

For instance, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Richmond is so athletic that Taylor can't keep him on the bench. Mat is burning the midnight oil, trying to figure out how he can utilize the big body in Skyline's patented spread attack.

"(Current Washington player) Cooper Pelluer was the perfect example; he had eight catches, and seven of them were touchdowns," Taylor said. "So people were saying 'Skyline's got a tight end! (Richmond) is forcing us to be more of a tight end-oriented team, and we need to be."

And Benford, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound athlete who transferred last year from Texas, brings some major athleticism to the Spartan program. He's another player that's causing Taylor to re-think how he runs offense. "I think the biggest learning curve for him was fitting into a system, a system we believe in that works," Taylor said of Benford's transition. "He hadn't been asked to do some of the reads and those types of things in his old defense, so that took some time. His athletic ability… people will notice him this year. Shoot, the kid can 360 dunk; it's going to be fun. We just have to find somewhere to put him on offense."

Sblendorio, Barney and Giese will be Browne's main targets when he steps back to pass. Taylor coached at the inaugural Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl last January, and he sees a lot of Stanford signee Zach Hoffpauir in Sblendorio. "Just really physical, always in the right place, smart football player - and he makes plays because he's a student of the game," Taylor said of Sblendorio, who is looking hard at Washington State, a school he's followed ever since he was a little kid.

Barney may only be 5-foot-7, but he's a big part of what drives the engine at Skyline on both sides of the ball. "Definitely an Ivy League type kid, potentially some of the Big Sky schools," Taylor said. "He's talked with Harvard. This is going to be a key period. With the advancement of Hudl, the kids can email their highlights off to colleges. So we'll start to pump that out and see what happens in the spring."

On defense, it all revolves around Pelluer, who currently has three scholarship offers - from Colorado, Washington State and Wyoming. He's led the KingCo 4A the last two years in tackles. "The interest is going to continue," Taylor said of Pelluer. "(Oregon Defensive Coordinator) Coach (Nick) Alliotti called me yesterday and wanted to talk about him, wants to have him come down to camp and wanted my evaluation. This spring is going to be an important period for him when the coaches come out. We'll see what happens."

But when you talk about Skyline, it all begins and ends with Browne - a rare blend of size, athleticism, smarts, poise and leadership to burn. On this Thursday he was one of the first ones at the workout, and definitely the last to leave. He's the E.F. Hutton of the Plateau; when he talks, everyone listens.

"The biggest thing with Max is that he works so hard," Taylor said. "He doesn't miss the weight room sessions at all. He's becoming an even better leader, and he's probably one of the best leaders that I've been around as a head coach. Every day in the weight room, you see his leadership; the kids feed off of him. It's such an underestimated trait in a quarterback - everybody talks about how they throw the ball and the skills and the mindset and how their reads are, but he's such a great leader."

With 15 scholarship offers in tow - UCLA was the latest to offer, right before this particular workout session - Browne hasn't even thought about trimming his list. He's just been thinking about getting it down to that special one that just fits. And he's been doing his due diligence, just returning from a successful unofficial visit to Oklahoma. He might take some more visits, to places like USC and Washington, before making his final decision, but one choice has already been made; he's going to do everything he can to educate himself in time to make the right decision for him before his senior season.

Because for Max Browne, 2012 is the year of the 'Best Team Ever!'

"He's very, very focused and driven for his senior year," said Taylor. "And that's the one neat thing about what we've got going on at Skyline - we have so many kids that have grown up in our youth system and our community and can't wait to put that Spartan helmet on and wear the green and silver. Here's a kid that's been watching this since his brother won a state championship in 2000. He was in the stands; he knew all the stats for all the kids on his brother's team when he was a five-year old up in the stands.

"That's what fun for him; this is important to him."

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