New faces dot the starting lineups and a tweak in program philosophy will see more players taking the field, but one thing will likely never change under the regime of head coach Joe Sprouse: the White River Hornets will again boast a run-first, smashmouth style of football.
As the team counts down the days to the nonleague season opener at neighboring Enumclaw High, Sprouse and his staff keep pounding the fundamentals that, he hopes, will continue a recent run of success. Last year’s team made the state playoffs and advanced to the Elite Eight; the 2011 squad won a league championship. Between those two was a club that was just a crucial play or two away from a playoff appearance, despite suffering critical injuries.
Last season ended with a loss to top-ranked Tumwater, a defeat that spurred quite a shift in the way Hornet personnel is used. The Hornets hung with the Thunderbirds for the opening quarters, but were outperformed in the second half, particularly in the fourth period. Sprouse believes Tumwater’s depth and limited number of two-way players contributed to the victory.
So, fans shouldn’t expect to see many Hornets playing on both sides of the ball this year. The shift in attitude has paid unexpected dividends, Sprouse said, as some talented players have joined the program due to greater playing opportunities.
Just a couple of players are presently slated for two-way duty and one of those is Dustin France, a three-season standout who is, in his coach’s eyes, perhaps the school’s best athlete. France has lined up as a receiver the past couple of seasons but will make the adjustment to quarterback. Considering his physical gifts, he may carry the ball more than other Hornets QBs of recent vintage.
France shapes up to be the busiest player in the program. He’ll also line up in the defensive backfield, handle the team’s placekicking chores and will most likely be the punter, too.
The Hornet offense took a huge hit with the graduation of running back, and league MVP, Keenan Fagan, but Sprouse is plenty excited about his replacement, Tristan Knaus. Sprouse said the senior would have started for most league teams last season.
“He’s going to be our workhorse,” Sprouse said of the 5-foot-7, 220-pound backfield bulldozer.
When France puts the ball in the air, he’ll likely be aiming at senior Hunter Hendricks, the fastest Hornet on the roster, or one of the football newcomers, junior Marcus Henke.
The offensive line will be anchored by senior Siansi Tangi, who will use his 6-4, 280-pound frame to open the way for the White River running game.
When the Hornets find themselves in close contests, Sprouse said, “it’ll be a steady diet of Tangi and Knaus in the fourth quarter.”
A linebacker during his playing days, Sprouse hopes to field a defense that sets the tone for the program.
An integral part of the defense should be senior linebacker Cyruss Stenson, who was a first-team, all-league selection a season ago.
An interesting addition is another of the Hornets’ first-year players, Polo Reyes. Before setting foot in the weight room, Sprouse said, the 6-footer was the Hornets’ strongest player. He’ll set up at nose tackle.