The T-Birds sit atop the Oly Sports preseason power rankings, again.
Here we go. Just a day away from the first high school football games of the season. And it is a season of changes and uncertainty for the 12 local high school football teams. Tumwater is the clear #1 team but after that it is almost a toss up. Tenino, Timberline, Olympia, Capital, even River Ridge, Rochester or Rainier could claim a high spot in these rankings.
1. Tumwater T-Birds
Last season: 13-1 – 2A EvCo champions, lost to Lynden in the 2A state title game
Next game: vs. Capital – Tumwater Stadium – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: Two straight 2A state title games and the T-Birds don’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. The Sid Otton coached team returns most of the top players including all-state linebacker Trevor Davis, wing back Easton Trakel and running back Tyrus Snow. There is no reason to think that they won’t be back in the title game again. The only major question is quarterback Spencer Dowers and how he replaces Jayden Croft. Croft’s first start running the complicated Tumwater offense as a junior didn’t go as planned with a surprising loss to Shelton. Dowers faces Capital in his first start.
2. Tenino Beavers
Last season: 6-5 – 1A Evergreen champions
Next game: at Charles Wright – University Place – 7:00 PM
Outlook: Tenino has a new head coach, former Yelm coach Randy Swilley, and returns a talented group of players that won the Beavers’ first league title in 27 years. Quarterback Calvin Guzman and running back Thomas Pier will have to adapt to Swilley’s single wing offense – an old school, rugby-ish offense that will either delight Tenino fans or make them pull their hair out. They will also have to adapt to the new hybrid 2A/1A Evergreen Conference. The league lost the tiny Rainier Mountaineers and gained Eatonville and 2A Aberdeen while Rochester stayed put in the league but moved up to 2A.
3. Timberline Blazers
Last season: 6-4 – 3A Narrows League champions
Next game: @ North Thurston – South Sound Stadium – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: The Blazers move up from the 3A Narrows to the 4A Narrows and return a solid group of skill players in senior quarterback Gabe Gutierrez, running back Andrew Paquin, speedy returner and defensive back Stevie Cleveland and a lot more from a team that won the league title but couldn’t get past Meadowdale in the crossover game. It’s hard to say how they will compete with the Bellarmines and Gig Harbors of the 4A Narrows, but they should find themselves competing with Olympia for a playoff spot.
4. Olympia Bears
Last season: 7-3 – 4th in 4A Narrows
Next game: vs. Ferris – Ingersoll Stadium – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: Olympia was easily the best team in the area that did not go to the playoffs in 2013 but the 4A Narrows was a little wild and wooly and the Bears just narrowly missed out. On the offense, gone is quarterback Derrick Becker and do everything Mitch Fettig to college careers which means that Kaden Wilson takes over under center after losing the job as a junior to the transfer Becker. Injuries have hurt the Bears already with Chase Zarate out for the season and it doesn’t help that the Bears and Aberdeen’s prize recruit Joel Dublanko flirted with each other in the spring and over the offseason before his family decided to stay put in the Harbor.
5. Capital Cougars
Last season: 4-6 – 3rd in 2A EvCo
Next game: @ Tumwater – Tumwater Stadium – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: I flirted with the idea of putting the Cougars as high as #2 in the power rankings this week because they return a really good core including both 1,000 yard runners in Connor Kennedy and Ryan Rieta and a solid offensive line that will help to spring them. However, you look at their schedule and it is impressively difficult. Tumwater to open the season, Olympia in week 2, Lincoln in week 3 and until they get to Week 7 against Mount Tahoma and week 9 against Shelton, there isn’t much of a competitive break for the Cougars. They opened the season with three straight losses in 2013 and could easily be 0-3 once again. But they could also be 2-1 or even 3-0. We’ll see.
6. River Ridge Hawks
Last season: 4-5 – 5th in 2A EvCo
Next game: @ Aberdeen – Stewart Field, Aberdeen – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: New offense, new league, new hope for River Ridge. The Hawks smartly ran away from the disintegrating 2A EvCo and found a new home in the SPSL. Sumner moved up to 3A so the league is much more balanced than it was a year ago when they ran the table. The speedy hawks will surely compete with the likes of the White River, Franklin Pierce and Steilacoom and could easily find themselves on top of the table when it is all said and done.
7. Rainier Mountaineers
Last season: 3-7 – 7th in 1A Evergreen
Next game: @ South Bend – South Bend HS – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: There was no bigger winner competitively in the reclassification shuffle than Rainier. They went from one of the smallest 1A schools to one of the biggest 2B schools and will have a very serious opportunity to contend with Raymond or North Beach in the 2B Pacific League. McKoy Bichler returns to Terry Shaw’s offense and could be the class quarterback of the league.
8. North Thurston Rams
Last season: 5-5 – 5th in 3A Narrows
Next game: vs. Timberline – South Sound Stadium – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: The Rams return just seven starters total from their 5-5 team last season including defensive lineman Grant Williams and defensive back Malachai Hicks. But the offense lost quarterback Ryan Mets and their hard nose running backs and the Rams look to be rebuilding in a highly competitive 3A Narrows League.
9. Black Hills Wolves
Last season: 4-6 – 4th in 2A EvCo
Next game: @ Montesano – Rottle Field, Montesano – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: The ugly ousting of Dominic Yarrington is behind the Wolves and Kirk Stevens takes over the reins of a team that might not be too bad but have an unfortunate league situation in the current four team 2A EvCo. With Tumwater, WF West and an improved Centralia squad, it seems like the Wolves might be the odd team out. The spread offense with quarterback Jayden Troy and a trio of good receivers could surprise, though.
10. Rochester Warriors
Last season: 6-4 – 2nd in 1A Evergreen
Next game: @ Centralia – Tiger Stadium, Centralia – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: If Rainier was the big winner in the reclassification cycle, Rochester has to be considered the big loser. The Warriors suddenly found themselves as one of the smallest 2A schools and were faced with the possibility of joining Tumwater, WF West, Black Hills and Centralia in the 2A EvCo. But, in my opinion, the Warriors did the smart thing and, along with fellow 2A squad Aberdeen, entered the hybrid 2A/1A Evergreen. They keep their traditional rivals, play schools that are much more in line with their size and resources and it should make it better competitively for all sports. However, that means the road to the playoffs is much more difficult since neither they or Aberdeen have a guaranteed spot in the 2A postseason. The schedule also doesn’t pay them any favors. Somehow the Warriors only play three home games this year.
11. Yelm Tornadoes
Last season: 4-6 – 6th in 4A Narrows
Next game: vs. Steilacoom – Yelm Tornadoes Stadium – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: Yelm has a good sophomore running back in Brandon Montgomery and a good offensive line to help spring him but they play a tougher non-conference schedule this season and have to face the always strong 4A Narrows League. It could be a long season for Jason Ronquillo’s squad.
12. Shelton Highclimbers
Last season: 2-8 – 6th in 3A Narrows
Next game: vs. North Mason – Highclimbers Stadium – Friday, 7:00 PM
Outlook: The Highclimbers are coming off a year that was only salvaged because they won games against two of the worst teams in the entire state, Mount Tahoma and Stadium. This year, Shelton will be better than last year and they still have workhorse Jake Henry at running back and putting Brian Nault at fullback will take advantage of his skills. But looking at the rough schedule that includes a non-conference game at Sumner, you can’t help but think that a 1-8 regular season is on the way.