RAINIER — 2021 was likely a year the Rainier football team would like to forget.
After a narrowing shootout defeat to Toledo in Week 1, the Mountaineers entered a two-week program pause after positive COVID-19 tests, and when they finally returned to the field in Week 4, they saw a Napavine team that blitzed its way through the Central 2B League and into the state championship game.
The Mountaineers spiraled to a winless season, getting just six games in after three cancellations in the first five weeks of the season.
Already, with COVID restrictions loosened, Mountaineers coach Andy Bartell is seeing a difference in his team, which graduated a large senior class last year and brought in double-digit freshmen this year.
“The whole offseason has been great,” Bartell said. “Getting back to a regular offseason and back to what it should be, it's been night and day compared to last year. It’s been amazing.”
Though last season’s team became unstabilized quickly, Bartell sees a whole new potential in his team this year, which is hungry to return to competitiveness in a stacked C2BL.
New leaders and seniors Trevor Anderson and Tyler Potts see that same potential.
“All offseason I’ve been using last year as motivation,” Anderson said. “We’re definitely not flushing it, but it’s something we can’t repeat.”
Replacing much of the senior-heavy roster last season has also come with some schematic benefits, as the Rainier coaching staff looks to adapt to its current class of players this season.
With a host of capable tailbacks, and an offensive line that took every advantage to lead in the weight room this summer, the Mountaineers are going to run the ball more than they have in recent years.
New quarterback Jake Meldrum, who played wide receiver as a freshman last season for Rainier, is also taking more leadership of the offense. He said the Mountaineers have developed an incredibly team-friendly atmosphere on both sides of the ball.
“I still learn from them and they learn from me,” Meldrum said. “We do everything as a team.”
With only one way to go after a tough year in 2021, the Mountaineers think they have all the pieces to make that year a distant memory and hit the ground running with a new group of leaders and schemes.
“We’re going to have a good team this year for sure,” Potts said. “The way the team is set up and the way the coaches have been working, I feel like it's going to be a really good team.”