Rochester High School football coach AJ Easley’s first season at the helm was anything but normal, and easy.
Coming in with grand plans of building a winning culture and turning around a program that had a rough few years prior was already going to be a challenge, but throw in mask mandates, social distancing procedures and cancelations, and it made it that much harder.
“I imagine being a head coach is hard anyway,” Easley said Thursday afternoon. “Then you deal with all that stuff, it was special.”
But the spring season is firmly behind the Warriors as they look ahead to this fall, and what Easley calls Day 2 of Year 1 of Rochester’s rebuild.
After a tough start to last season, which included decisive losses to Tumwater and WF West, the Warriors found themselves in every game of their last three, beating Centralia by one score and going wire-to-wire in tight losses with Aberdeen and Tenino to close out the year.
The emphasis this year after those late losses is finishing everything.
“Everything the coaches have been preaching, we just need to finish,” quarterback Landon Hawes said. “If you look at the games last year, we didn’t finish as we should have. Just kind of preaching to finish every play, every drill, everything you can cause that’s what’s going to win ball games.”
Hawes is coming back to start another year at quarterback, along with all-area tailback Talon Betts, who Hawes says he shares one brain with.
With nine set to return on defense and six on offense, the Warriors are optimistic heading into their first game against R.A. Long on Sept. 4.
“It’s the best,” Hawes said. “Just being out here with all my friends again, you can’t get better than that. Especially with the season we had last year, we were in so many games and we really turned it around, I thought. We’re just trying to build on that and see what we can do, I think we’ll be surprising people.”
With the motto, “Be the Change,” the Warriors have their eyes on the finish this year, especially without any weak games on their schedule. Year 2 of the Easley era represents a big chance for these Warriors as they look to take another big step toward the rebuilding process.
With support from the community, and especially the football moms that have supplied dinner for the kids after two-a-day practices this week, there’s no doubt in anyone’s minds close to the program that they can take that step.
“We’re really taking that to heart, I can see improvement all over the field,” junior lineman Owen Gillaspie said. “Change our culture, change our attitude, our mindset and go out and play full speed and have fun.”