Local high schoolers hit the gridiron for the first time in over a year late last month as Washington state moved to Phase 2 of the state’s “Healthy Washington” reopening plan. With the advance into Phase 2, full-contact games are allowed between two schools with limited attendance for guests, announcers and other game staff, along with restrictions for health and safety reasons. The football season is shortened by over half. Barring any changes, local 1A and 2A schools will be playing a five-game season while 3A and 4A will be playing six.
Head coach: John Lambert
2019-20 record: 9-1 (4-0 in league)
Saturday, Feb. 20 at Fort Vancouver: La Center 58, Fort Vancouver 0
Friday, Feb. 26 vs. Goldendale: La Center 45, Goldendale 13
Friday, March 5 vs. Montesano: Montesano 41, La Center 24
Friday, March 12 at Columbia High School (White Salmon)
Friday, March 19 vs. Castle Rock
The La Center Wildcats had a strong start to the shortened football season with wins over both 2A Fort Vancouver and 2B Goldendale. Head Coach John Lambert said the first game back out on the field was “wonderful” and something he and the players had been waiting for for a long time.
“They were just fired and up and excited for this opportunity,” John Lambert said, likening the feeling of getting back out on the field to a hot pizza after a strict diet. “When something is taken away, it’s that much more delicious (when you finally get to do it).”
Due to both the snow storm and previous health and safety guidelines, the 1A Wildcats were only able to practice in full gear on the field one time prior to their first game on Saturday, Feb. 20. However, the team came out strong, dismantling the Trappers 58 to 0. John Lambert and his son, quarterback Tom Lambert, both said the 2020-21 Wildcat team is “full of chemistry” and all of the players work together well to get the job done.
“We celebrate each other's successes, and that is so important,” John Lambert said. “The better we do as a group, the better we will do as a team and individually.”
According to Lambert, attendance to games is limited to three guests per senior, two per junior and one per sophomore. However, he said the school and athletics department are hoping to get videos online to the school’s Facebook feed for parents and community members to watch.
Coach Lambert said getting back out on the field has improved team morale and confidence, as well as some grades. He said the game of football is a “unique opportunity” for students to build teamwork and confidence with their friends.
“Imagine having a math class where everyone comes to watch you take the test on Friday and the results are in the paper on Saturday,” he said.
Tom Lambert echoed the coach’s statements on teamwork and said the Wildcats have “a bunch of really hard-working dudes” and everyone on the team “brings each other up” no matter what age.
As for what the team needs to work on, Tom Lambert said there are just a few things that “need tightening up” before the team closes out the season. As for getting out under the lights for the first time after a year of not knowing if he will have a senior season, Tom Lambert said he could’ve played a game the minute teams were allowed to because he was “excited to get one last season with his dad” and one last experience with the Wildcats.
Head Coach: Rick Steele
2019-20 record: 11-2 (6-0 in league)
Saturday, Feb. 20 at RA Long: Hockinson 56, RA Long 0
Saturday, Feb. 27 vs. Woodland: Hockinson 27, Woodland 3
Saturday, March 6 at Columbia River High School
Saturday, March 13 vs. Ridgefield
Saturday, March 20 at Washougal
The 2A powerhouse Hockinson Hawks graduated a large number of star seniors after the 2019 football season, which ended in the state semifinals after a loss to Tumwater. The 2019 season-ending loss against Tumwater marked the end of an era as the Hawks had won two back-to-back state championships in the previous years.
Despite graduating seniors such as University of Washington freshman Sawyer Racanelli, the 2020-21 Hawks came out strong in their first two games of the five game season with wins over both RA Long and Woodland.
Hockinson Head Coach Rick Steele said last year’s senior class has made an impact on the next generation of Hawks and their current and future success.
“They really modeled to the rest of this team, to the kids that are here now, what a winning football program looks like,” Steele said. “And that becomes the expectation. These kids don’t know any different.”
The coach said the team is “highly athletic” and doesn’t need too much work on the athletic side of things. However, he said the team needs to work on techniques such as getting into the right positions at the right time, reading defenses and offences and “being smart football players.”
Steele said the team was “happy to be back” despite the shortened football season.
“These kids have waited for a long time just to have the chance to get out on the field,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if it's three games, five games or 10.”
Much like La Center’s Coach John Lambert, Steele said getting back out on the field and playing football has “helped the mental health of the players.”
“We handed out gear two months ago and you would not believe how excited not only the players were but the parents, too,” Steele said. “”We didn’t even know if we were going to play football, but just having that helping and shoulder pads made them feel better.”
Steele said the sport of football is important to the team as many of the players have known each other their entire life and have played football together for years.
Senior outside linebacker Adam Newt said the first game of the season was “long awaited” for the team he has spent nearly his entire life playing for.
“It’s a small town, so we’ve all really grown up together and formed a brotherhood. We’ve all had classes together and it makes us really close,” he said, mentioning that everyone on the team plays for “each other” instead of just themselves.
Senior left guard Jake Rogers echoed Newt’s statements.
“We’re a really tight knit group and we all got each other's back and we know on the field that we're all going to go as hard as we can not just for ourselves but for each other,” Rogers said.
Rogers said his favorite part about the sport of football is “tackling and making hits.” He said making his first hit of the season on Saturday, Feb. 20, “felt good” after nearly a year of anticipation for the season.
Head Coach: Scott Rice
2019-20 record: 6-5 (4-2 in league)
Saturday, Feb. 20 at Hudson’s Bay: Ridgefield 42, Hudson’s Bay 0
Friday, Feb. 26 vs. Washougal: Ridgefield 48, Washougal 0
Friday, March 5 vs. Mark Morris: Ridgefield 49, Mark Morris 0
Saturday, March 13 at Hockinson
Friday, March 19 at Woodland
The Ridgefield Spudders began the shortened 2020-21 football season with three shutouts, outscoring their opponents 139-0 against Hudson’s Bay, Washougal, and R A Long.
Head Coach Scott Rice said the main goal for the Spudders this year is to show the 2A division that the 2019 year “wasn’t just a oopsie” and that the “sky's the limit” for the group of Spudders this year.
“Our mantra this year is ‘raise the expectation,’” Rice said.
Rice said he has been impressed with the focus the Spudder team has had after nearly 460 days off from the sport due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rice said it was “disappointing” to have last year’s fall season canceled, because he and the rest of the team “wanted to show the rest of Southwest Washington that last year wasn’t a fluke.”
Last year, Rice led the Spudders to the state playoffs for the first time since 2005 after a 49-6 win over Aberdeen. Now, with a strong start behind them, the competitive Spudders continue to show their strength in the division. However, Coach Rice said the team needs to work on “competing at a higher level” for this season and beyond.
“Our drills are getting better, our movements are getting better and things are getting faster,” Rice said.
Like other coaches, Rice has seen the mental improvement the sport has had on players and students.
“In general, it’s been amazing. Kids are happier and more excited,” Rice said, mentioning that a lot of kids are improving on their grades because now there is “an accountability piece” in the game of football.
Senior quarterback Luke Price said the first play of the season on Saturday, Feb. 20, “was a little rusty.” However, after he took a hit and completed another play, “it just felt like football again.”
Price said the group of Spudders he competes with is “a special group of talent” with good athletes and great leadership and “5-0 is the standard” for this group that will “put their footprint down on the program and set the tone for the future.”
Tanner Roberts, a senior outside linebacker and running back for the Spudders, said the team has a large amount of camaraderie which contributes to the teams continued success.
“I can’t name a single guy out on this field that I don’t get along with,” he said. “That family quality of the team makes us so much stronger.”
After over a year of waiting, Roberts said making the first hit on friday night was “kind of like euphoria” and “taking a deep breath at the end of a long day.”
“Getting back out there is just euphoric,” he concluded.
Head Coach: Mike Woodward
2019-20 record: 2-7 (2-4 in league)
Saturday, Feb. 20 vs. Columbia River: Columbia River 22, Woodland 13
Saturday, Feb. 27 at Hockinson: Hockinson 27, Woodland 3
Friday, March 5 vs. RA Long: Woodland 35, R A Long 0
Friday, March 12 at Mark Morris
Friday, March 19 vs. Ridgefield
After taking a year off, Mike Woodward decided to come back and coach the 2A Woodland Beavers for the 2020-21 season and beyond.
“It was pretty special and a long wait,” Woodward said about getting back out on the field again after the season was postponed due to the pandemic. “And maybe that was a sign that I needed to wait a little longer.”
Woodward said he planned to come back and coach the Beavers in the future. However, he planned on taking “at least three to four years off” before coming back. But when the opportunity to coach the Beavers for the current season came up, Woodward said he “couldn’t pass it up.”
“I just love this place,” he said about Woodland. “These kids, these coaches and teachers, everything about it.”
Woodward said he loves the small town aspect of Woodland because it reminds him of growing up in Battle Ground.
“I grew up a part of small town football and it’s replicating itself here and that’s special,” he said.
As for practices, Woodward said the team is trying out a new strategy this year and working to slow down the tempo and “milk the clock” as much as possible.
“A lot of teams can run the ball, but if you don’t get first downs, you’re not controlling the clock,” Woodward said. “In our first game we had two drives that were over eight minutes.”
Along with working to control the clock, Woodward said the team needs to work on “minor things” such as playing lower on the field when preparing to tackle.
Woodward explained how practice has helped the kids mentally and physically.
“The first day of practice was really special for these kids because not only was it the first day in pads in a long time, but because the field was also covered in snow,” Woodward said. “It was hard to run in but we had fun.”
Jason Bowman, a senior left tackle, said the first game back on the field “was a little unconditioned.” However, Bowman said how it was “fun” to be back out on the field with his friends and fellow students “win or lose.” For Bowman, making tackles is his favorite part of the sport, and the first time he got to get out there and make a hit on an opposing team was fun because the team cheered on the hit.
Bowman’s main sport is track and field, however, he said there isn’t really anything out there that is like football.
“(Track) is very individual whereas football is like a brotherhood,” he said. “You got our linemen that get together and watch film together and then you got the whole team that comes together and works as a team.”
Head Coach: Mike Peck
2019-20 record: 9-2 (3-1 in league)
Friday, Feb. 26 at Evergreen: Evergreen 34, Prairie 22
Friday, March 5 vs. Skyview: Skyview 51, Prairie 0
Friday, March 12 at Mountain View
Tuesday, March 23 vs. Heritage
Saturday, March 27 vs. Kelso
Friday, April 2 at Camas
Coming off a historic season and a state berth for the first time since 1992, the Prairie Falcons hit the gridiron for the first time on Friday, Feb. 26, against the Evergreen Plainsmen. The close loss came after a short amount of practice in full gear, and Coach Peck said the team “made some costly mistakes” in the first game. However, Peck said the team “really showed their potential” in the second half of the Feb. 26 game and he is “excited to keep improving.”
Peck said getting back out on the field for the first time was “great” and the biggest aspect of the game for him was “getting to watch the kids actually play meaningful football.”
“Just to see them having fun and living a normal life is a victory in itself,” Peck said.
Peck’s coaching philosophy and the entire football program is built on the seven-aspect “Falcon Creed:” blue collar work, always compete, show class on and off the field, never give up, accountability for yourself and your teammates, tough physically and mentally, and unity. For Peck, the game of football is an example of what can happen if “11 people are working as one towards the same goal.”
“(Football) creates a friendship bond that not a lot of other things can create,” he said. “Football is definitely special that way you feel all the emotions in you, all the highs and lows, but you feel it together, and by the end of the season, you've been through a lot together and that's just, you can't replace that.”
For the future, Peck wants to continue building the program and have the seniors of each year “carry over” the philosophy and training to the younger group. “The seniors treat the freshmen incredibly well and teach them how we do things here and to get that started as early as possible is huge.”
As for the impact practices and games have had on the program, Peck said he has seen firsthand an improvement in team morale and general happiness among players. “I could see them getting more and more excited as we got closer to the first game,” he said.
For Senior Left Tackle Brody Schlaefli, the over 400-day long break form football was “the longest in his entire athletic career” for any sport. Schlaefli said he had “butterflies in his stomach” for nearly two days before making his first hit on Saturday, Feb. 26. “As soon as I made that first hit, all the butterflies went away and it was awesome going back to doing what I know and love to do.”
Senior Wide Receiver Ian Davis said he had been working in the off-season as much as possible to prepare for the possible return of Falcon football. As for the Falcon team as a whole, Davis said the group is “one big family” and plays that way. “We hold each other accountable, even more than our coaches do,” he said. “We work as hard as we possibly can and we work together.”
Head Coach: Mike Kesler
2019-20 record: 2-7 (1-3 in league)
Friday, Feb. 26 vs. Heritage: Heritage 26, Battle Ground 0
Friday, March 5 at Kelso: Kelso 55, Battle Ground 20
Friday, March 12 vs. Camas
Thursday, March 18 vs. Mountain View
Tuesday, March 23 at Union
Friday, April 2 vs. Skyview
The Battle Ground Tiger’s hit the field on Friday, Feb. 26 for their first game of the shortened 2020-21 season. Despite a few mistakes, Head Coach Mike Kesler said the Tigers came out to the field to compete and “got better” on a lot of aspects of the game over the course of regulation.
Kesler said the current Tiger team has “some inexperience,” however, the team shows promise, especially in the younger crowd and Junior Varsity team and future Varsity prospects. “Everybody showed great, great attitude,” he said. “We’re getting better. Every day we’re getting better.”
Kesler said the game was “strange” without any spectators in the stands to cheer on Battle Ground’s hometown football team. However, for Kesler, the first game was more than just a football game, but an opportunity for kids to “return to some semblance of normal.” He explained how distance learning has shown a toll on some of the kids learning prospects and mental health and football offers them an outlet for stress and an opportunity to see their friends again. Kesler said the Tiger’s “just need to get a few more games under their belt” to show their strength in the division.
Senior Linebacker Ricardo Lara echoed Kesler’s statements about the game being an outlet for stress. “It’s a huge stress reliever,” he said. “It feels really good being out here with my brothers again.”
Lara said the first practice and game back in pads was “tough” but once he got in the groove of playing again, he was ready to go. Senior Quarterback Reid Schneider said putting on his uniform again for the first game of the year was “surreal” because he didn’t know if he was going to have a senior season. “It was kind of weird after not playing for a year and a half but I am super excited to be back out here.”
Schneider said the team of Tigers has an incredible bond with each other and have been playing together for quite some time. “We have a pretty good group of seniors and we have some good chemistry,” he concluded.