The amount of returning experience and talent in the skill positions at Hoquiam entering the 2016 season may only be rivaled by the school’s state championship teams in other sports. And, it may be a bit unfair in comparison, too.
With nearly all of their skilled players returning from last year’s state 1A quarterfinal team, the Grizzlies are entering this season with all of the expectations and pressures of being the overwhelming favorite in the Evergreen 1A League.
Well, unless you talk to head coach Rick Moore. You’ll get a different perspective on life inside the Hoquiam practices.
“Our expectations are to do well and win each week,” Moore said. “Yeah, sure, there is a lot of talk swirling around out there with all of our skill guys returning. However, just like any year, each team has to establish its own identity. We can’t ride the coattails of other years. These guys have to bring it in every practice to get better.
“The expectations are high,” he added. “Our goal is to get into the top-three (league) spots every year to get into the show. We knocked down a big door last year. Now, we hope to swing the door a little wider this year.”
Senior quarterback Gregory Dick (185 of 376, 2,407 yards, 26 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and finished with 2,657 total offensive yards, 28 touchdowns) helped open that postseason door for Hoquiam and won the Evergreen 1A Offensive MVP award. Dick spent the summer at several regional passing camps and Moore sees him stepping up as the quiet leader of the team.
“His reading progression and leadership has grown,” he said. “His confidence has grown. He has a vast amount of experience and he is a pretty even-keeled kid. He doesn’t get flustered. He’s stready, just keeps plugging along.”
Behind Dick, senior Artimus Johnson has bulked up and will take over the lead running back role. His strengths are his speed and power, which will also serve him well as he takes over for graduated Tahj Malone at middle linebacker (79 tackles — 28 solo, 51 assists, eight TFLs, a sack, two forced fumbles, four pass defenses — and six interceptions, two returned for touchdowns).
“He was lean and mean at (the Central Washington team camp),” Moore added. “Last year, he didn’t have the experience coming in. Now, he’s our starting running back and receiver.”
Dick will have senior all-league wide receivers Jerod Steen and Ryan Espedal as targets, along with seniors Anthony Nash and Jack Adams III and sophmore Payton Quintanilla. Quintanilla and junior Sean McAllister will also see plenty of time as running backs.
On the line, three returning starters will anchor the unit, beginning with senior Dylan Moodenbaugh and juniors Chewy Muro and Garrett Bradley adding experience.
“We’ll have some younger guys coming in to fill out positions,” Moore said. “It should be interesting.”
Inside the Evergreen 1A, Moore sees Montesano and Hoquiam as the favorites, with Forks being a sleeper team with Elma adjusting to a new head coach and Tenino with a new head coach and several losses to graduation. The non-league schedule includes several Evergreen 2A teams, including rival Aberdeen during the second week of the season.
“We are playing a 2A schedule,” Moore said. “I think it will benefit us. We have to compete and be right there with all of the teams every week. We may not have as good of a record as we had in years’ past because of the new schedule. And, we could be a much better football team overall than we were last year.”
Outside of the Hoquiam city limits, the expectations for the Grizzlies are pressurized. Moore doesn’t buy into it, but he and his players know they are there.
“It comes down to how we do things; we’re concerned with just ourselves,” Moore said. “My job is to snap these guys back into reality. They need to keep focused, keep working hard and keep them level headed. We can’t look at ourselves as special. We’re just a blue-collar group of individuals working together and getting better together.”
Assisting Moore this season will be longtime coaches Ed Dawson, Eric Dayton, Jeremy McMillan, Cameron Parker and Tracy Pelan.