There is a sign on the weight room door at Chiawana that reads, “Offseason workouts are optional, but so is playing time in the fall.”
It’s part of an overall philosophy for the Chiawana Riverhawks that basically states there is no substitute for hard work.
This holds especially true for the Chiawana defensive unit, which has played consistently well all season long, helping lead the Riverhawks to an 11-1 record and a Class 4A state semifinal matchup at 1 p.m. Saturday against Graham-Kapowsin (11-1) at Edgar Brown Stadium in Pasco.
The numbers are impressive: the Riverhawks have given up just 86 points in their 12 contests; just 10 points in the past three playoff games; an average of 181 yards surrendered per game.
Chiawana coach Steve Graff, defensive coordinator Don Hogue and the rest of the coaching staff had some questions in the spring about the defense after the team lost some key players to graduation after last season’s state championship run.
But they got their answers, made a few changes a few weeks into the season and have been on a roll since.
“For instance, we had some questions at the linebacker spot,” Hogue said. “But Caleb Weber and Nate Murillo have stepped up. I think all season long, Nate has been a good leader.”
Graff says nothing can happen without talent. But then you have to have players who are mentally tough.
“You’ve got to have players first,” Graff said. “Watching film just helps.”
That’s where Chiawana gets a step on other teams.
It’s called Hudl. It’s a website where many high school football teams load their game films, and players can watch it, anytime, anywhere.
On Friday, after a walk-through practice on the field, the defensive unit walked into Room 1251, a health room class, and proceeded to watch a 30-minute film that Hogue compiled on Graham-Kapowsin’s offense.
The room was silent, with Hogue mentioning a small detail every fourth or fifth play. A defensive player sacking the quarterback with a hard hit brought out some admiring “oohs” from some of the Chiawana players.
There was no other talk or explanation of a game plan, because this wasn’t the first time this week the players had seen the film.
Each player puts in at least five hours a week of film study.
“Our success is based definitely from our coaching,” Murillo said. “They’ve given us the right tools. I’ll do film review one hour at home in the morning, another 50 minutes at lunch time, then 30 to 60 minutes after practice. Maybe some more time at home that night.”
Defensive end/tight end Christian Penny says it’s like having another class.
“But it’s awesome,” he said. “We’re taught to do something, and we do it. We execute it well.”
They execute well because they find clues during the week.
Defensive lineman Juan Noyola says the filmwork pays off.
“I watch a lot of film until my eyes hurt,” Noyola said. “Every offense has a certain blocking scheme. We can tell by their alignment what they are going to do.”
Graff said he has gotten questions from other coaches, asking how often he has his kids watch film.
“I tell them every day,” Graff said. “We make these kids watch film. It’s so important for the defense to do that. More important than the offense. And I can go on Hudl, and see who’s been watching film. You find a tell on a run or pass situation, that’s huge.”
Hogue leads the way with this setup.
“The players have bought into that,” Hogue said. “We talk and study offenses in general, almost like a philosophy. But we’ve kind of embraced the technology, too. It’s not even close to what it was five years ago. They can watch this stuff on their phones and iPads now.”
It’s made them better players, too.
“When I was a freshman, I watched film, but I never studied it,” said Weber, who logs on to Hudl about eight hours a week. “It’s almost like cheating, because we’re so well-prepared.”
Hogue’s group is also proud, playing for one another.
“Defensively, there is a realization that you’re not going to get the recognition like the offense does,” he said. “People in the stands come to watch the offense move the ball.”
Penny says he likes playing defense more. Isaiah Richie, a defensive back who also plays wide receiver, does, too.
“It’s 11 guys versus the one ball carrier,” Richie said. “Even on offense, I have a defensive mind and want to hit someone. We take a lot of pride in not giving a team anything. And since Mac (Graff) got hurt (in a hunting accident), and Corey Bell went down (knee), we’ve really come together. As defensive guys, we don’t want to give up any touchdowns, and at best get three turnovers in a game.”
By the time the game rolls around, the defensive staff — Hogue, Robert Booth, Joe Carrasco, Kevin Pedersen and Troy Sommerville — has already done its job.
“We typically don’t call the plays because the offenses move so fast,” said Hogue. “When we did give them signals, we were only right half the time anyway.”
So Weber and Murillo call the plays, pick the right time for blitzes and coverages.
“Caleb’s football IQ is pretty high,” Hogue said.
The sophomore leads the team with an average of eight tackles a game.
“My reads are a lot faster since the season opener, and the game’s speed seems to have slowed down for me,” he said. “We knew we had it in us to be the best defense in the state. We like to go out and smash the other team in the mouth.”
But he also credits that defensive front four of Noyola, Penny, Levi McBride and Kannen Jenkins in being the team’s driving force.
“I would not be averaging that many tackles without those guys,” Weber said.
Noyola understand and knows he and his linemates are appreciated. It’s why he loves playing defense.
“That and contact,” Noyola said. “It’s the best thing ever, and I don’t get into trouble for it.
“We’ve become brothers. We’re like best friends.”