Last week at South Kitsap High School, Ibi Ceesay caught a long pass from quarterback Ketner Young on a fade route down the sideline, and scampered into the end zone for an 83-yard score.
Catches like that — in this case in one-on-one coverage where Ceesay beat a jumping defender — are exactly why coach Steve Davis wants the ball in Ceesay’s hands.
“He’s a danger to do something special every time he touches the football,” Davis said.
With his speed and ability as a receiver, Ceesay has been a key part in helping the Bears balance an offense that has heavily relied on the run in past seasons. Through the first five weeks, the senior has corralled 14 passes for 307 yards and two scores.
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Davis said he’s confident in Ceesay’s ability to match up with any defensive back in the stacked Class 4A South Puget Sound League, where the Bears (4-1) sit in third behind undefeated Graham-Kapowsin and Puyallup.
Ceesay has “sneaky speed and good hands,” Davis said. He’ll run tough routes, isn’t afraid to catch the ball over the middle and is a big reason why Young is averaging nearly 125 passing yards per game.
“He’s such a good playmaker,” Young said of Ceesay. “I always know, if I don’t see anything open, I can just throw it in his direction and he’ll go make a play because he’s just that kind of guy.
“I know I can always come back to him. Especially in man-to-man coverage, I’ll take Ibi over anyone.”
Ceesay worries opposing teams, Young said, when he has the ball and when he doesn’t. Because of his versatility, Ceesay is a two-way starter at receiver and free safety. He also returns kicks — averaging more than 27 yards per return — and punts for the Bears.
“He can really play anywhere,” Young said. “He’s one of those kids you can put him in any spot, and he’ll go do it as hard as he can, and he’ll be good at it. We all trust him to do everything, and he has the athletic ability to do everything.”
Ceesay’s transition into one of Olympia’s top playmakers began during the spring. He’s been with the Bears since his Thurston County Youth Football League days, and played for Olympia’s varsity team his sophomore and junior year.
Cessay, who attends Pope John Paul II in Lacey and plays basketball for the Eagles in the winter, said he opted not to play soccer last spring. Instead, he spent that time with his football teammates in the weight room.
“I had a lot of time in the spring and summer to work on other stuff,” he said. “I went in the weight room and put in the work with the rest of the team. ... I improved a lot in all sections of the weight room.”
Davis said Ceesay, now 6-foot, 175 pounds, has benefited for that time building his body. Davis said Ceesay improved his squat by 100 pounds in five months.
Cessay, who keeps his locker right next to Young’s, also attended the Northwest 9 quarterback camp with Young over the summer as a safety, and knocked down a few passes.
“He’s really done a lot of stuff to make himself a good football player from the end of last year to this year,” Davis said. “He’s really dedicated himself to the game.”
That has, so far, translated into averaging 22 yards per catch. He’s also recorded 42 tackles for the Bears and blocked a field goal attempt in a narrow road win over Bellarmine Prep three weeks ago.
“We want to have our best guys on the field, especially at critical times,” Davis said. “Obviously he figures into that. He’s the best at his position on both sides of the ball.”
Davis said the Bears try to move Ceesay around on offense — and at one point against South Kitsap Ceesay lined up in four different places on four consecutive plays — because of his big-play ability.
Cessay knows if defenses focus on him teammates like running back Owen Shea, who has rushed for 631 yards and seven touchdowns, can make them pay.
“We’re spreading the ball out more,” Ceesay said. “We used to just run the ball. Teams packed the (box) expecting the run, but now we can just open up the field, open up more things for own and all of our running backs.”
But Ceesay figures to be a focal point this week when the Bears host Sumner (3-2). The defending 4A SPSL champions — who advanced to the state semifinals last year — are on a two-game skid, and gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns against Puyallup last week.
“We’ve been trying to get him more touches throughout the weeks,” Young said. “He’s a great player. I think he’s going to play a big role on special teams, offense, defense — he’s going to do it all this week.”