This week will bring a return to normal for the Plateau’s two football programs – whatever “normal” means these days – with both Enumclaw High and White River taking to the line of scrimmage under Friday night lights.
Both will be on the road for their season openers, which come roughly six months following the conclusion of last year’s pandemic-plagued season that brought a delayed start (first games in late February) and an abbreviated schedule.
Both local teams will be heading south to Thurston County for their non-league season openers. Enumclaw will visit Tumwater High while the White River crew travels to face the Capital High squad in Olympia.
Here’s an early look at how things shape up for the Hornets, both north and south of the river.
It’s season No. 10 for EHS coach Mark Gunderson, who has built a 50-36 record during his stint with the Hornets.
This time around, Gunderson opened fall turnouts with an eye toward replacing some crucial pieces from last year’s squad.
Among those lost to graduation were Lorenzo Luchi, the co-Defensive Player of the Year as voted by South Puget Sound League 2Acoaches; Kaden Loop, the league’s Special Teams Player of the Year; Cameron Brauer, SPSL 2A first-team quarterback; and Royal Snyder, a first-team running back.
But that doesn’t mean Gunderson and his staff are hurting for players. There’s a healthy list of returnees, some of whom garnered all-league notice following last season. On the offensive side, that list includes receivers Dylan Watterson and Clive Pond, plus lineman Zeke Luchi. Defensively, key returnees include lineman Keanu Lafaete and linebackers Dane Johnson and Austin Paulson. Special teams play includes returning kicker Noah Seabrands. The versatile Watterson is expanding his duties for his senior season, lining up as a running back as well.
In all, the Hornets welcome back five offensive starters and an equal number on defense.
Asked to name some of his top offensive players, Gunderson noted the 5-9, 175-pound Watterson; Luchi, his 265-pound center; and running back Dawson Harding (5-9, 175). Taking over the QB duties will be senior Malcolm Harper (5-11, 165).
Defensively, Gunderson singles out players like safety Emmit Otero (5-9, 170); Lafaele, his 6-1, 245-pound nose guard; linebacker Paulson (6-1, 180); and Watterson.
Gunderson is putting a lot of stock in his group up front. “Our line will be the key to our success this year,” he said.
Enumclaw High is coming off a shortened, five-game season that had the Hornets dropping their first and last contests but winning the three in the middle (averaging more than 50 points during that three-win span). The campaign came to a disappointing close when the Battle of the Bridge, the annual game against neighboring White River, was washed away by COVID concerns.
Putting points on the scoreboard is every team’s goal, but that’s of particular emphasis at White River. Third-year coach Kenny Pirone and his staff will be looking for more firepower than was shown a season ago, when the Hornets lost their first four games, scoring just four touchdowns and 27 points along the way.
Despite the rocky start, the five-game campaign finished on a high note when White River thumped the Washington Patriots 42-21 in a home-field season finale. But disappointment returned the following week when COVID concerns caused cancellation of the Battle of the Bridge against neighboring Enumclaw High.
Offensively, White River will be sparked by the return of Payne Plaster for a senior season. He has been the team’s most productive ballcarrier the past two years and was an all-league, second team selection a season ago.
“Payne is such a dynamic player that we are definitely finding ways to get him the ball as much as possible,” Pirone said. “We are going to be a better balanced offense this season compared to last year,” he said, while admitting much of the offense will revolve around using Plaster in a variety of ways.
An addition to the starting backfield is quarterback Tyson Campbell. “He has done a really good job of learning the playbook and taking command of the offense,” the coach said, adding an interesting athletic twist. “His baseball background helps him deliver the ball quickly and on target whether in the pocket or on the move,” Pirone said.
Also on the offensive side, the Hornets expect to see positive contributions from linemen Ryan Stapleton and Wyatt Davis. Josh Poulin returns to provide depth and experience at running back while Devin Zweifel is a threat at wide receiver.
Looking to anchor the defense are returnees like linebackers Logan Lisherness, Cooper Reeves and Tyson Campbell, lineman Luke Tranquillo and defensive backs Nate Peckham and Tyce Donovan.
There are some players Pirone is high on that could be showing varsity skills for the first time. That list includes Lyle Dolojan, a wide receiver/defensive back; Jacob Rennacker, tight end/linebacker; Xavier Braun, running back/defensive back; and Jayden Clausnitzer, wide receiver/defensive back.