Moving forward after a forfeit-filled 2016 season. That's one of Archbishop Murphy's goals as the team opens the high school football season Thursday night.

They're also aiming for a second straight 2A state championship.

"That is the goal, but we need to go week by week. We've got a good team in Garfield coming here Thursday, they've got some great athletes, and we're going to have our hands full there," said Archbishop Murphy's Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jerry Jensen.

KING 5 sat down with Jensen as his team prepares to open the 2017 high school football season against Garfield High School.

Jensen said he's always been proud of his team, but never more so than last year. That's when the Wildcats won the 2A state championship in spite of a controversy that quickly gained national attention.

Five teams flat out refused to play Archbishop Murphy, citing concerns about player safety and competitive imbalance due to the Wildcats' starting line-up that included six players weighing in at 250 pounds or more.

The forfeits came after the Wildcats won their first three games of the 2016 season by a combined score of 170-0. Jensen said the forfeits were tough on his players.

"They were definitely frustrated at times for sure, and it was challenging at times," he said. "But the guys were able to take some good life lessons away last year, and we'll try to apply some of that to this season."

The forfeits also sparked a heated debate about whether private schools like Archbishop Murphy belong in the same conference as public schools, since private schools are allowed to draw talented players from a much larger geographic region.

Jensen doesn't necessarily agree with that argument.

"It doesn't matter whether you're a public school or private in my opinion," he said. "If you're going to build a program, you can do it at either and do it properly at either."

But he does think it's time for the WIAA to step in and work to level the playing field in various conferences and districts.

"Hopefully at the end of the day the WIAA and the different districts and schools can all put aside their best interests and look at how do we build football and keep football sustainable in Washington state," he said. "It needs to happen, so it's going to be one of those things we need to keep pushing on it, keep pushing on it. There's a better way."

But since no changes were made in time for the 2017 season, Jensen took it upon himself to contact every school in the Cascade Conference, to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. He says athletic directors at every school in the conference assured him they would play.

Archbishop Murphy's players hope their opponents keep their word.

"Because if it can happen one year, it can happen any year. We're just hoping everything has been set up correctly and there's no teams that are going to be forfeiting," said Archbishop Murphy Senior Ben Hines.

One team that definitely won't be forfeiting: Garfield High School. In fact, Garfield's head coach, Joey Thomas, actually asked to play Archbishop Murphy in a non-league game.

"When Joey called me and said they wanted to play us, it was a good fit. There's definitely a respect there," Jensen said. "You know, going through adversity; when you know someone else has gone through something similar, you do have that bond."

He's referring to the controversy Garfield High School dealt with over the past year, starting with the team's participation in national anthem protests that began in the NFL. Garfield's coach was also accused of violating recruitment rules, but an independent investigation cleared Thomas of any wrongdoing.

Thomas spoke to KING 5 about both issues as his team begins a new season. You can watch that story here.

The game between Archbishop Murphy and Garfield is set for seven p.m. Thursday at Archbishop's stadium in Everett.

Archbishop Murphy is ranked number one in the state in Class 2A, according to the newly released AP Poll. Garfield is ranked number six in the state in Class 3A.

As for Jensen, he's hoping his team can put the forfeits behind them and focus on the future.

"We've got to put all that stuff away and refocus and start building this team," said Jensen. "We've got a different team than we had last year and I think that's important for everyone to know."

Archbishop Murphy lost a lot of seniors last year but returned six starters on either side of the ball.

"Those kids that were here last year aren't here now. So don't judge us on that, and our kids need to remember that too. They need to make their own name, and we start to do that Thursday," said Jensen.