Football previews: EHS returns with seasoned players, WRHS boasts new coach

Football players on both sides of the White River have been sweating away preseason workouts – occasionally under sunny Plateau skies and 90-degree heat – and those intense practice sessions are about to be put to the test.

The prep football campaign, a nine-week grind that will eventually separate contenders from pretenders, will launch this week. The athletic calendars reflect an ongoing shortage of game officials, a situation that has impacted the tradition of Friday nights under the lights. Instead, Thursday contests have become routine with a Saturday game slated every now and then.

Enumclaw, for example, opens the season with back-to-back Thursday games, both on the Hornets’ home turf at the Enumclaw Expo Center: the August 31 opener has EHS taking on the Peninsula Seahawks; on September 7 the Hornets host Franklin Pierce in the South Puget Sound League 2A season opener. Two more Thursday games come late in the season.

White River will play five of its nine regular-season games on Thursdays, including the first four. The August 31 opener will have the Hornets hosting Franklin Pierce at Arrow Lumber Stadium. White River will play only three times on a Friday, as a Saturday nonleague contest is planned for Oct. 7, at home, against Fort Vancouver.

Here’s how things were stacking up during the preseason practice sessions..


The Enumclaw High program heads in a new season with a well-defined challenge: namely, matching the success of last year’s program that rolled undefeated through league play, found postseason success and eventually reached the Final Four of the Class 2A state playoffs.

But it’s a challenge the Hornets are facing head on, according to head coach Mark Gunderson.

“We’re excited to get things going,” the veteran coach said, noting that his squad isn’t shy about reaching for the stars. Does that include perhaps playing for a state championship? “It isn’t an unrealistic expectation,” he said.

“There was a sour taste left in these kids’ mouths” following last year’s semifinal exit from the state 2A playoffs, Gunderson said. During that game against Lynden, the Hornets opened with two drives that reached the Lynden 3-yard line – and those two drives combined to put zero points on the scoreboard.

That’s a scenario resulting in “what could have been” discussions. So, this time around a state title “is definitely something the kids have talked about,” the coach said.

For Gunderson (the league’s reigning Coach of the Year) and his staff, a primary task will be replacing some talented pieces that contributed to last year’s 12-1 program. Lost to graduation were such stalwarts as Emmit Otero, the league’s Most Valuable Player; Austin Paulson, the league’s Defensive Player of the Year; Zeke Luchi, Offensive Lineman of the Year; and Keanu Lafaele, Defensive Lineman of the Year.

But the Hornet cupboard is far from empty. For example, this year’s roster includes several players who were first team, all-league selections a season ago. That list includes senior offensive lineman Ryan Fehr, junior fullback Seamus Twohey, and junior defensive lineman Fernando Reyes. Also on the list is multi-talented senior Karson Holt, a first team selection as a deep snapper and second team pick at linebacker who also proved to be one of the Hornets’ dependable receivers.

Leading the EHS offense will be returning quarterback Gunnar Trachte, who garnered second team, all-league honors following last season’s success. It’s no secret he’s on the collegiate radar, particularly after being named the top QB during the summer camp at Central Washington University (the same honor he received during the 2022 camp in Ellensburg).

Also back to help spur the offense are junior running back Louis Chevalier (second team a year ago), senior lineman Parker Hendrickson (honorable mention) and senior running back Tristan Donovan (honorable mention).

The Hornet defense also features talent and experience. Back in the fold are a trio of juniors who received all-league honorable mention a season ago: linebacker Colton Paulson, lineman Ryker Popke and defensive back Dac Harrell.

Gunderson also expects “big-time contributions” from Cooper and Porter Rodarte, brothers who moved from the district a few years ago but have returned for their junior seasons as Hornets.

Adding to the EHS talent pool is kicker Riley Rutledge, a senior who impressed at summer camps and has one collegiate offer in his pocket already – with more likely to come, Gunderson said.

“He comes out and works at his craft every day,” Gunderson said of Rutledge, who takes over kicking duties for the departed Noah Seabrands.


The big story in the White River camp is the new man in charge. Wyatt Evanson was hired in January to guide the Hornet football fortunes, made his way northwest from Utah and has been putting his stamp on the Buckley program.

Evenson is a Washington state native who graduated in 2008 from Spokane’s Shadle Park High School. He first attended the University of Puget Sound before transferring to Eastern Washington University where he earned a bachelor’s degree. He later earned a master’s degree in sports science and education from Ohio University and, most recently, received the CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist) designation.

Evenson arrived at White River following four seasons as the offensive coordinator at Park City High School in Utah. Other football stints include the 2018 season as special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach at Mount Vernon High and the 2016 season as an offensive assistant at Bellingham High, both in Washington. From 2010 to 2013 he served his alma mater, Shadle Park, as the Highlanders’ special teams coach and co-offensive coordinator.

Evanson’s No. 1 challenge, perhaps, is to reverse White River’s recent skid. The Hornets went 1-8 a season ago and were winless in SPSL 2A games, marking a campaign in which the squad was hit hard by injuries. That followed a 2021 campaign when the team finished 4-6 overall. Since advancing to the state quarterfinals in 2013, WRHS teams have compiled an overall record of 29-54.

So far, Evenson likes what he sees. He was on campus for spring ball, overseeing a two-week session and installing new systems. The summer included a one-day 7-on-7 camp in Lakewood and a scrimmage against Auburn Mountainview. He also was encouraged by his players’ dedication to the weight room.

“We have some great athletes,” Evenson said of this year’s squad. Leading the way, he added, is “a senior group that’s ready to come out of their shell.” He also praises younger players who performed well a year ago at the C squad level.

At the top of the rebuilding process are a pair of Hornet seniors, Jacob Rennaker and Aaden Rathbun. Rennaker was a first team, all-league selection last year and Rathbun, a quarterback, garnered honorable mention honors. Other returnees boasting all-league mention include junior linebacker Mason Johnson (second team) and senior receiver Kouri Lewis (honorable mention).

Evenson isn’t about to share any secrets when it comes to Hornet tendencies, preferring to state only that his offense will seek to maximize its strengths (which could vary depending upon the weather and the opponent). The same goes for the defense, which will face wildly different foes to open the season. Franklin Pierce (week one) defeated the Hornets last season without a yard of passing offense while Steilacoom (week two) is known to be pass-happy.

Evenson has kept most of the Hornet coaching staff intact, with one notable exception. Mike Clancy has taken over as defensive coordinator, while also joining the White River teaching staff. Clancy is familiar in regional coaching circles, having previously headed programs at Auburn Mountainview and Kent-Meridian. When the Hornets have the ball, Evenson will be calling the plays.