Most football teams that graduated its entire offensive unit would be starting from scratch the following season.
That probably won’t be the case with Hoquiam.
Despite a complete makeover of their offensive starting lineup, the Grizzlies rank as one of the favorites in the Evergreen 1A League this season.
To begin with, the reigning league champion Grizzlies aren’t quite as lacking in game experience as the absence of returning starters would suggest. Several of their returnees logged considerable action in the second half of blowouts during a campaign in which they went 10-1 and established several school single-season records. Their average victory margin was 46 points and their tightest win was a 41-14 conquest of eventual state 1A champion Montesano before they fell to state poll leader King’s in the opening round of the state playoffs.
The Grizzlies have also been successful at the junior varsity and C squad levels in recent years.
“I think we’re going to be OK,” said Rick Moore, the team’s respected defensive coordinator who was elevated to the head- coaching position earlier this year after Jason Ronquillo accepted the top coaching job at Yelm. “The key is going to be staying healthy. I think we’ll be in the upper half (of the league). The kids are hungry.”
Hoquiam opens the season Friday with a non-leaguer at Centralia.
One thing the Grizzlies haven’t lost is overall team speed. Senior running back Devin Kelly was productive in a reserve role last year. He and junior running back Tyler White formed half of Hoquiam’s state championship sprint relay team in track last spring.
Under new offensive coordinator Jeremy McMillan (Moore will continue to be in charge of the defense), the Grizzlies are hoping to exploit their quickness through a variety of offensive sets.
“We’re looking at spreading the field with our speed,” Moore confirmed, “and obviously we’ll have some power sets, too.”
Senior Tahcoy Ibabao and junior Michael Harris will join Kelly and White as running backs.
Brenner Carlstrom, a senior who backed up the since-graduated Evan Erickson last season, will open the season at quarterback. Junior Kenny Wakefield, currently ticketed for a starting berth at tight end, may see some time at QB as well.
Senior Tristan Stutesman and junior Austin Edwards will divide time at wide receiver. The competition at Z back (or wingback) is stiff, with senior Angel Mazariegos, junior Maurice Weaver and freshmen Jerod Steen and Ryan Espedal figuring into the mix.
Hoquiam is least experienced in the offensive line, although senior guard Kenny Huffman saw some action there last season.
Other probable starters inclde sophomore Chase Watters at the other guard, juniors Dante Lopez and Jesiah Bretz at tackles and juniors Kolby Standstipher and Tyler Smith at center.
“The area of concern is how quickly we can have the offensive line jell,” Moore noted.
Carlstrom, at linebacker, and Devin Kelly in the secondary are Hoquiam’s returning defensive regulars.
Huffman may alternate between the line and linebacker. Watters, Bretz, Standstipher and Smith up front and Ibabao, Harris, Lopez, Wakefield and White, as linebackers, figure to see considerable action.
Devin Kelly will be joined in the secondary by Blake Kelly (no relation), Weaver, Mazariegos, Steen, Espedal and Edwards at various times.
Moore expects Montesano, despite graduation losses nearly as extensive as Hoquiam’s, to be the team to beat in the Evergreen 1A circuit, with Elma figuring to contend and Rochester as a potential darkhorse.
In addition to McMillan, Grizzly assistant coaches include Ed Dawson, Jeff Gates, Cameron Parker, Eric Dixon, Jeff Niemi, Dana LeDuc, Kolby Holmes, Seth Moore and Tom Carlyle.