MONTESANO — Last year, Montesano made a run to the state 1A football playoff semifinals, an experience few Bulldog players will ever forget. However, it was also a playoff push that most of the players who will return this season experienced from the sidelines.
Monte lost all but two starters from 2015 to graduation, but those returning to the Maroon Storm for 2016 are hungry to make it back to the playoffs.
“The guys are working hard and they want to get better,” Monte coach Terry Jensen said. “A lot of these kids have sat for a couple years and they are seniors now and they want their chance.”
The Bulldogs lost three all-state players from the 10-3 campaign last season and will enter the season with plenty of question marks. Montesano has plenty of team speed and talent to be successful, but the biggest question mark comes with the lack of varsity playing time logged by those returning for the Bulldogs.
“It is just the experience factor,” Jensen said. “We are kind of like a roller coaster right now. We have highs and lows and things in between. The approach is we have to become really good at the fundamentals. We are trying to get better every day and get that consistency and, at the same time, trying to build some depth. Depth is a huge issue for us right now. If we started the season tomorrow, we would be starting 10 guys both ways and that is a lot for us. Usually we are at six or seven. It could be hard for those guys to go both ways for a whole game, so the development of depth is pretty crucial for us in our teaching right now. We are a work in progress right now.”
The work in progress begins with just one player returning on offense. The Bulldogs will be led by junior Trevor Ridgway at quarterback. Joining Ridgway in the backfield will be senior Nathan Olson at fullback and junior Carson Klinger at halfback. Senior Nick Chapman is slotted to start at receiver along with junior Dakoyta Reninger, while senior Tyler Reninger will start at tight end.
Anchoring the Bulldogs’ offensive line will be senior Taylor Rupe, the only returning starter from the start of 2015, at left guard along with senior Hayden Klinger at left tackle. Jaren Wallace is set to begin his junior season at right tackle, while a pair of seniors will round out the starting line with Ben Lopez at center and Cole Bradbury at right guard. Also battling for playing time on the offensive line are seniors Tagg Meneely and Carson Lewis.
Defensively, the Bulldogs will be anchored by Rupe once again, this time at defensive end with Bradbury at nose guard and Hayden Klinger at the other defensive end. Lewis and Kai Olson are also fighting for time on the defensive line.
Jensen projected Dakoyta Reninger, Tyler Izatt, Olson, Tyler Reninger and Wallace at linebacker, Chapman and Ridgway at cornerback and Carson Klinger at free safety. While the starters may be set for the first week, Jensen said he plans to try and give several players chances to crack the starting lineup throughout the season.
With many players getting their first chance to step into a starting role, Jensen said the coaching staff has taken a few wrinkles out of the offense and defense.
“The schemes are the same, but it is more watered down and simplified,” Jensen said. “We are more vanilla on both sides of the ball and more than we’ve been in the past. As we get better at the vanilla part of it, then we can expand and add the chocolate and the strawberry. We are still vanilla right now. One of our strengths would be that we have a lot of team speed. A lot of these guys have played a lot of junior varsity but that is just a different speed than the varsity level.”
Jensen said he expects Hoquiam to be the team to beat in the Evergreen 1A League this season, but he isn’t willing to give the Grizzlies the league title just yet. With a non-league schedule that offers five games to prepare for league play, Jensen said the Bulldogs should be right in the mix for the Evergreen crown.
“We are not going to concede anything,” Jensen said. “We just have to keep plugging away and keep getting better now. We think that if we can take care and continue to do those things every day that we can get there.”