ELMA — Elma’s veteran head coach Jim Hill is enthusiastic for this upcoming football season, especially with the group of players he and his coaches will be leading into battle in the Evergreen 1A League.
Despite the low numbers overall in the program — 40 players, varsity and junior varsity — the Eagles will be fielding an experienced squad on both sides of the ball.
“(The 40 players) is the lowest I’ve had in my career,” Hill said. “However, the ones we have are quality. We have high expectations. We have quality kids. We have the best senior class in quite a while. Their leadership qualities are strong and I hope that their leadership feeds off to the underclassmen and to the community.”
On Friday, Elma (4-6 overall in 2012) will hit the road to take on Hockinson to start the season.
For Hill and the Eagles, the team starts with the seniors. Beginning with veteran quarterback Ryan Collin and offensive/defensive linemen Ricky Escalante, Austin Carrell and Brek McGaughy, this is where you’ll find the most experience.
Collin will have one of favorite receivers back in the fold, senior first team all-league wide receiver Todd Swinhart, along with senior Kevin Farr. Hoquiam transfer Rashad Lorton will also add to the Eagles’ receiving corps.
Other seniors expected to step forward are offensive/defensive lineman Manny Torres and running backs Tanner Sample and Jacob Stevens. Sample and Stevens will anchor the linebacker corps on defense, while Torres, a second-team all-league pick and a three-year starter, will anchor the defensive end spot.
“Stevens will be a very good player for us and Rashad is a very quick player, a sparkplug guy,” Hill said. “We’re having such a good time. The coaching staff and players are having a great time. We’re enjoying coaching them and they are enjoying us coaching them. It is a breathe of fresh air for me and the staff. The last few years have been extremely disappointing.”
Also expected to bring an impact to the Eagles this season are juniors Joe Wilson, Rio Ortega and Steven Persell and sophomores Justin Spencer and Chazen Hurd.
Wilson will be on the offensive and defensive lines. Ortega and Hurd both performed well during the summer for the Grays Harbor Babe Ruth 15-year-old All-Stars at the Babe Ruth Northwest Regionals in Centralia. Ortega will see time as a linebacker, while Hurd will be in the middle of the offensive line at center.
Persell picked up experience as a sophomore at running back last year and will help out Sample and Stevens in the backfield. Spencer is another speedy threat at wide receiver.
One of the downfalls to a small number of players in the program is depth. Many of the players mentioned will play both ways and as Hill noted, “if one goes down, that’s two spots we have to fill.”
“We trust one another and we believe in one another,” Hill added. “It has been very special so far.”
In the Evergreen 1A, Hill sees Elma in the thick of the race with the reigning state 1A champions Montesano and state-qualifier Hoquiam.
“You have to beat Montesano; you have to beat them,” Hill said. “Hoquiam has enough personnel to do it. Those are the teams.
“This year is the year we want Elma football back to where it used to be,” Hill added. “We expect to complete for the playoffs and for the league championships. No disrespect to the other schools, but that is our mindset. Everyone in our program believes in where we’re at and who we are with. We’re having fun.”
Assisting Hill this season are veteran coaches Ron Clark, Bryan Schneider, Todd Baun and Larry Raynes.