The Pasco High School football team’s 1-9 record wasn’t indicative of how competitive the Bulldogs were last season.
Their one win was a 36-35, come-from-behind victory against Kennewick, which went on to advance to the Class 3A state quarterfinals. Four of Pasco’s losses were by eight points or fewer.
Though the Bulldogs were ranked last in the Mid-Columbia Conference in team offense and defense in 2015, second-year coach Kevin Jolley believes they are heading in the right direction to improve those numbers.
“Things are coming together. I think we’re ahead of where we were last year at this point,” Jolley said. “We’ve got our offense in, and now it’s just ‘review, review, review’ on that. Defense is a lot of ‘react,’ so that comes together a little quicker than an offense. And then, special teams — we get all of our special teams in every day, so we’ve hit that hard as well.”
Senior wide receiver/defensive back Ryan Calveard says the Bulldogs are raring to go — in no small part because of Jolley.
“Coach Jolley has brought a lot of energy into this program. That’s something we lacked a lot before,” Calveard said. “He’s got a lot more people excited to play. We’ve had a lot more people in the weight room this summer. During the practices, there’s just a lot more energy, and we’re excited for our first game.”
But there are key positional gaps to fill. The Bulldogs graduated their top quarterback (Kolby Killoy), rusher (Kaleb Ash), receiver (Sebastian Gutierrez) and punter (Kynen Tate), among others.
“We got some good kids that are sophomores and juniors, and they’re gonna have to play a big role in what we do Friday night,” Jolley said. “We’re just trying to piece that together with those kids.”
The battle to replace Killoy as the starting quarterback has come down to sophomore Emilio Davila and senior Keaton Stewart. Both of them play multiple sports for Pasco.
“Those kids are very athletic, so right now it’s good competition,” Jolley said. “That’s what we need. We need that competition in order to make ourselves better. I think before the kids could just come out here and know that they didn’t have anybody pushing them, and so they could just give their minimum effort and start. Well, these two, you’re seeing the battle right now out of both of them.”
Calveard, Izmael Mercado and Jacob Sandoval — all seniors — lead a veteran receiving crew. Jolley said senior running back Deondre Hendrix, who tips the scales at about 240 pounds, is “gonna be a load to bring down.”
“Offensively, Deondre didn’t get a lot of touches last year,” Calveard said. “That’s something that is definitely going to have to change this year. In practice, he’s getting a lot of the touches on offense. We’re going to have to establish more of a run game, and I think Deondre has a big part in the offense.”
Junior Tayden Jenkins will display his speed at running back and on kickoff returns. Last year’s all-league honorable mention returner brought back 16 kickoffs for 361 yards, ranking second in the MCC.
Sophomore Avery Burrows is penciled in as a tight end/outside linebacker. He was an all-conference honorable mention wrestler last winter at 170 pounds.
Chris Pruneda will play some fullback, but the senior likely won’t be limited to that role.
“He’s a kid that we may have to move around to tight end. ... We might have to move him to the offensive line too,” Jolley said. “He’s got a lot of talent that we can use him in multiple positions.”
That also includes defense.
With TreVon Davis moving back to the Vancouver, Wash., area for his senior year and Diego Lopez being sidelined by a knee injury, Pruneda is being considered for a move to defensive end.
As for the line, Jolley says the first group is solid on offense and defense, but “we’re gonna struggle filling in if anything happens with those guys.”
With the graduation of all-MCC linemen Misael Estrada and Manuel Rodriguez, senior Arturo Ruesga will be looked upon to set the tone as a returning starter on both sides of the ball.
Junior Anthony Cortez and sophomore Davion Pruitt, who wrestle for the Bulldogs, should have a significant impact as well.
“There’s always gonna be somebody bigger and stronger; we just gotta get the technique down,” Ruesga said. “How to do a run block, all the proper footsteps.”
Getting the fundamentals down will help keep the Bulldogs on track in 2016. Last season, they proved to themselves that they could hang with their opponents. They’re setting their sights higher this year.
“After about the third or fourth game, accomplishing the fact that we were competitive, it gets to that point where, ‘Gosh dang it, we don’t just want to be competitive. Now we want to win games,’ ” Jolley said.
Their first opportunity to do that this season comes Friday night, when Eisenhower visits Edgar Brown Stadium.
Break it down
2015: 1-6 MCC, 1-9 overall.
MCC rankings: Offense eighth (229.6 yards per game); defense eighth (405.7 ypg).
Returning leaders: Rushing — Deondre Hendrix 197 yards, 52 carries, 3 TDs. Receiving — Izmael Mercado 13-92. Kickoff returns — Tayden Jenkins 16 KO returns, 361 yards.
Key games: Sept. 2, vs. Eisenhower; Oct. 14, vs. Chiawana; Oct. 28, vs. Kennewick.