Young football team has grown up fast

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Kensie Speed

Junior running back Jalen Woodley runs past defenders to score an 80-yard touchdown early in the first quarter of the season opener at Juanita. Blocking for Woodley, were juniors Mario Tupou and Brayden Mills as well as sophomore Kobe Henning. Early in the play, Woodley needed to break several tackles before he could run the rest of the open field for the score. "Ten yards in, I thought, 'Dang, I'm tired,'" Woodley said. "It was a slow trip, but I made it."

Joey Matsuzawa, Sports Editor

This year’s football team is one of the youngest teams in recent memory. With a team comprised of mostly juniors, many of whom have never played in a varsity game, it is easy to say their lack of experience will be their downfall. But what they lack in experience they make up for in enthusiasm and hard work.

With the loss of last year’s veteran seniors, junior captain and middle linebacker Max Larson says they have a brand new team. This also leaves the team in the position of teaching the newer players.

“There are lots of guys that don’t have experience playing varsity football, so it’s new to them; they’re just learning,” junior right guard Pito Satele said.

To help make up for the lack of experience, senior captain and strong safety Chase Mersberg organized additional “player-run” practices during  winter break.

“We got people out there at six o’clock in the morning, getting work done,” he said.

In addition to the extra time put in during the off-season, the team is also a more tightly-knit group than is was last season.

“We have more trust and more of a connection with each other from last year,” Satale said. “This year’s more of a community; everyone knows each other.”

Though after their 59-7 loss to Juanita in the season opener, players say it is clear there is room for improvement on tackling on defense and executing their jobs on offense. Others added that the amount of penalties needs to be addressed as well.

“We killed ourselves,” Larson said. “We had a lot of penalties. Where we’d be set up to get a first down [the penalties] would just drive us back. One drive we had three penalties in a row-that’s a huge problem if you’re trying to move the ball.”

In spite of the penalties and missed assignments, the game featured an 80 yard touchdown run from junior running back Jalen Woodley. In the early stages of the play, Woodley ran into a slew of the other team’s defenders but was able to escape-citing key blocks from junior left tackle Mario Tupou.

“I catch the pitch and run into a lot of bodies. As soon as I feel their arms around me, I [shake] them off, and then there was all this open field,” Woodley said. “Ten yards in, I thought, ‘Dang, I’m tired.’ It was a slow trip, but I made it.”

The team now believes that that loss is behind them and feels confident in its new players.

“I think that [the skill] will come in time. In the first game no one hit the ground running,” senior captain and center Tim Starostka said. “But now we know what we need to accomplish to succeed.”

While the young team begins to find its stride, its young junior quarterback Brayden Mills will continue to work and improve as well. Mills was selected to start as quarterback early last spring.

“It hit him very quickly and forced him to mature in one offseason rather than slowly develop,” Starostka said. “I think he’s doing a great job.”

Despite all of the eyes watching him, Mills is able to maintain his focus and keep his humility.

“There’s a little pressure, but it doesn’t bother me,” Mills said.

As Mills feels confident in himself and will continue to work hard to improve, his team continues to support him.

“I give props to Brayden honestly; he’s stepping up, and it was the first varsity game he’d played,” Satele said. “He’s doing a great job so far.”

Head coach, DJ Baddeley says that cooperation and teamwork is very important.

“In a team, everyone has to be able to work together and get along and respect each other,” Baddeley said. “They’ve put a lot of time and effort in.”

Players say the chemistry is what the team has lacked in previous years and that now their work ethic is stronger than ever.

“Our work ethic is a lot better compared to last year,” Larson said. “Last year we had all the talent, but didn’t work very hard,”

They’re now hoping that all of their hard work pays off.

“Lots of guys are playing for each other more than they did last year,” senior captain and linebacker Sam Bronson said. “We’re all out there playing the best we can for each other.”

Even though the team is winless* so far, the offense seem to be improving, as they have scored more points in each game.

*Records updated as of Sept. 30