The hope of winning can be a powerful motivator for getting out of bed and going to work.
The Hanford High School football team realized this when new coach Brett Jay scheduled mandatory early morning training sessions during the summer.
The Falcons, who slogged through an 0-10 season last year, were tired of being the Mid-Columbia Conference’s punching bag. They went to their workouts and eventually started to see their strength improve physically — and as a team.
“That’s the first year I’ve ever fully lifted with all my teammates,” senior Elwood Davis said. “You didn’t get to choose whether you wanted to come in the morning or the afternoon. We all came, showed up at 7:30 every morning, Monday through Friday, and we got it. That’s where I really started talking to more people. I started talking to freshmen, sophomores, juniors. I talked to the whole school.”
Jay, who replaced longtime coach Rob Oram after head-coaching stints at alma mater River View (2008-13) and Monroe (2014), hopes the results in the weight room will translate on the field.
“I thought coach Oram had a good program going,” Jay said. “Everything was pretty much in place. I know last year they had some tough luck with injuries. I thought the program was in good shape. We were able to just focus in on the X’s and O’s, and develop the players.”
Jay has a reputation for building up strong programs. He had a 43-21 overall record at Class 1A River View, where he led the Panthers to three state playoff berths. Class 4A Monroe went 7-3 last year and appeared in the quad-district playoffs.
“He’s brought a demand for success,” senior Kedrick Skinner said. “We’ve got to play to his level, and he doesn’t ever lower his standards to us. He’s brought a lot of energy and a lot of positive vibes. He makes us want to play for him, and it hasn’t been like that in the past.”
Junior quarterback Desmond Samples can make things happen with his arm (1,019 yards, 10 touchdowns in 2014) and his legs (603 yards on 104 rushes, 9 TDs). He spent the offseason working with Jay on his progressions and reads.
“I hope to improve on my throwing ability,” Samples said. “I know I can run, but it’s my ability to stay in the pocket and throw to the guys that are open and not try to rush everything.”
Samples will have his pick of targets. Davis, who made the all-MCC second team last year after rushing 134 times for 568 yards, led Hanford in receiving (32 catches for 298 yards). He and his cousins, fraternal twins Kedrick and Kevon Skinner, will display their athleticism on both sides of the ball.
Isaiah Zavala and 6-foot-6, 270-pound junior Brock Wellsfry are skilled two-way linemen, and Austin Dreyer has his teammates’ vote of confidence as a middle linebacker/tight end.
“He has a motor,” Davis said. “He’s one of our captains as well. He never takes a play off. I’ve never seen him work so hard and have so much heart for our team.”
But perhaps the most transformed player is senior defensive back Jacob Campbell.
“He wants to be great,” Jay said. “Going in, we didn’t know exactly what we were going to get from Jake, but he’s worked his way into a starting role on our defense, and he’s really rallying our secondary right now.”
Speed is not an issue for the Falcons. Kevon Skinner, Joe Gauthier, Gavin Slack and Mateo Valadez represented Hanford in the 4x100-meter relay at the Class 3A state track and field championships last spring in Tacoma. Gauthier and Slack are both listed at wide receiver and defensive back. Valadez is on the roster as a running back and defensive back.
The Falcons also have some talented underclassmen who Jay believes are primed for big seasons.
Wide receiver/defensive back Josiah Richardson is expected to be a two-way starter.
“He’s kind of got all the intangibles,” Jay said. “He just does the right thing, and he knows football very well, especially for a sophomore.”
Meanwhile, freshman Conner Milliken is a 6-0, 210-pound lineman who impressed in the Tri-City Elite program last year. He can play both ways and will start on offense.
Keys to success
Jay sums it up like this: “Consistency. Bolded, underlined.”
“We have extreme highs and extreme lows right now,” he said. “We must understand the importance of consistently being great and quit accepting the lows. One play at a time from snap to whistle is our focus.”
The Falcons also need to “understand that individuals aren’t going to win games,” Jay said. “It’s going to take every single one of us.”
The Falcons open Friday night at defending Oregon 5A champion Hermiston. But the Bulldogs have a new coach, too, and are adjusting to life without quarterback Chase Knutz, the 5A all-state offensive player of the year.
Hanford hosts West Valley of Yakima on Sept. 11 and will begin MCC play Sept. 18 against Pasco at Edgar Brown Stadium.
While the prospect of ending a lengthy losing streak drives the Falcons, there’s another goal to achieve by season’s end.
“I just want to look back and say we gave everything we had, every player gave every ounce of energy they had,” Kedrick Skinner said. “That will be the true measure of success.”
New Hanford coach Brett Jay has assembled a strong group of assistants this year. Tom DeWitz returns as Hanford’s defensive coordinator. Jay has brought in ex-Kennewick High players Don Odegard (defensive backs coach) and Jacob Meise (defensive line), former Kennewick offensive line coach Tom Walsh and ex-Hanford player Joe Powers (special teams). Former River View players Terran Brown (inside receivers), Dylan Thomas (outside receivers) and Dan Madrigal (offensive line) are helping out their old head coach. Hanford boys track coach Darren Crow will work with the running backs, and Cedric Samples is staying on to help oversee the defensive backs.
Kamiakin teacher Mike Price (offensive line) and Zak Wahlstrom (assistant DB coach) and Allen Wahlstrom (assistant D-line coach) round out the staff. Jay will run the offense.