“Skill” is an interesting word in football nomenclature.
It most frequently pertains to the “skill” positions of quarterback, running back and receiver. You know, the guys “skilled” enough to handle the ball, pile up yards and score touchdowns.
Chandler Newell used the word this week when recalling his start on the gridiron, a self-described “chunky” kid in the seventh grade getting his first taste of playing in pads and an introduction to life on the offensive line.
“I knew I wasn’t a skill player,” he said.
Still isn’t, in regard to carrying the ball. But when it comes to finding someone with skills — someone who is real good at what he does — you won’t find much better “skill” guys on the Chiawana football team than Newell at center and longtime linemate Kayden Maughan at left tackle.
“I’m super excited to get big numbers (on offense). It’s so cool to watch those guys do well,” said Maughan, a three-time all-league first-teamer at left tackle who said the job on the O-line is to pave the way.
“We’re the big nasties up front, that’s the tradition. We go out and be as physical as we can be. Be mean.”
“Mean” is a word that comes up a lot when talking to the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Maughan and 6-3, 215-pound Newell, also a three-time all-league player who was named Mid-Columbia Conference offensive lineman of the year this season.
Like all good offensive linemen, they have an ornery streak. But Maughan and Newell are perfectly nice away from the field, smiles coming easy to their faces.
“Once we strap the pads on,” Newell said, “it’s a whole other deal.”
The deal this year has been outstanding play across the line as the Riverhawks piled up 456 yards a game in the regular season, then hung 52, 56 and 40 points on the scoreboard in their three state playoff games heading into Saturday’s Class 4A championship game against Camas at the Tacoma Dome.
Left guard Jake Martin, right guard Kameron Silvers and right tackle Wesley Henderson have delivered consistent performances, with Braylon Hanson and Trenton Steach adding critical depth and also playing a little tight end.
Silvers is the kid of the group, a sophomore who has started from Day 1 just like Newell and Maughan did back in the day.
“They got thrown to the wolves as sophomores and had to group up fast,” said Chiawana offensive coordinator Dave Spray, who works with the O-line. “They took their lumps and beatings for a year, and I’m pretty sure that was motivation to get bigger and stronger as soon as possible. They didn’t want to have that happen anymore.”
Indeed, Maughan remembered feeling “beat up” after those early games. Perhaps that accounts for the mean streak, but it is certain where the motivation comes from for the entire team.
After ending abruptly one game short of the state playoffs in 2011, the Riverhawks came into last season with lofty expectations, only to get off to an 0-3 start and finish once again just short of the state playoffs.
“That was the baseline for this season,” Newell said. “We came out, and it was not going to be like that this season.”
With a big senior class leading the charge, life has been pretty good for the Riverhawks, whose only loss came in Week 7, 33-26 to Lake City of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
That game has been called a wake-up call by players and coaches, and Chiawana’s closest call since was a 22-point win at Wenatchee in the quarterfinals where the hosts made up a lot of ground late.
And now the Riverhawks are a win away from their ultimate goal.
“It’s always been in the back of our heads, let’s go out there and go get state,” Maughan said, adding that it hasn’t been that hard getting back to business this week after Saturday’s dominating 40-7 semifinal win over Federal Way that secured a spot at the Tacoma Dome.
“At first, I mean, it’s the state championship,” he said. “But then we got the blue collar, punch in, punch out, let’s go hit somebody.”