T-Birds’ smaller line paving way to Husky Stadium


Two returning tackles. A coach’s son who’s spent his life in the program. A new right guard, and a converted linebacker.

With such tools has the Tumwater offense become a juggernaut again.

The T-Birds, boasting their heralded Wing T attack, are once more running past, through and over opponents, but they’re not doing it with an offensive line that — at least on paper — screams power football.

“They’re not built like linemen,” head coach William Garrow said.

Try telling that to the defenses that have tried to get past them to tackle Tumwater’s stable of backs, though. Thirteen weeks into the season, the T-Birds are still averaging over 10 yards a rush and a touchdown every six carries, and it all starts with that remade front.

In 2022, Tumwater’s line never really came all the way together, with injuries messing up any sort of cohesion before the season even began. And despite a backfield led by a future FCS tailback in Carlos Matheney, the offense struggled.

Come the following winter, changes began to shape up.

“I’ll bet you that as a group, those five made 90% of all workouts that we’ve put on since February,” Garrow said. “They’ve been extremely committed.”

It starts with the bigger bodies on the outside, with junior Dylan Gilliland (listed at 6 feet, 240 pounds) at left tackle and senior Brady Larson (6-foot-1, 290 pounds) at right tackle. But going inside, the T-Birds get smaller in a hurry. Senior Orion Haury — the son of offensive line coach Scott Haury — is the smallest of the bunch at left guard, coming in at 190 pounds. Right guard Kade Contreras, new to the starting group, is only a bit bigger at 200 pounds.

Rounding out the quintet is the group’s keystone: senior center Colin Griffiths, who only played on defense — and not even on the line there — until this winter, when Tumwater’s center from last season decided not to come out for the team.

“We asked Colin to step in, and he’s played every snap at center, at a brand new position as a senior,” Garrow said. “He worked his a** off to get there.”

And with one game left as a unit on the schedule, the results have shown. After a season of mixed-and-matched groups, Garrow said he’s been able to trot out the same starting five in 11 of the T-Birds’ 12 games so far.

“That’s been the biggest thing: consistency,” he said. “Because they’ve been able to stay healthy. It sounds cliche, but they put in enough work so that their bodies could withstand it.”

And they’re doing it — and doing it well — not off of sheer size and power. 

In the Thunderbirds’ 19-17 win over North Kitsap, the line went up against a Viking front that had at least a couple inches and 15 pounds on them across the board. But when it mattered, Tumwater found its rhythm in the trenches, churning out two touchdown drives in the final 15 minutes — along with a six-minute showcase of power running to bleed the rest of the clock at the end of the fourth quarter and win the game.

Tumwater has had lines that simply bowled people over before, but with a smaller unit than normal, the T-Birds have gone back to the blocking concepts that make the Wing T such a well-oiled machine.

“We don’t block people the same way that other (teams) would,” Garrow said. “We block angles, we pull them, we use misdirection and that kind of stuff. I mean, it would be nice and I’d love to have 6-foot-4, 280-pound guys across the line. But we don’t have to have those to run the system.”

Instead, they have their returning tackles, their coach’s son, their new starter, and their converted linebacker for one more game, at Husky Stadium against Anacortes on Saturday at 3 p.m.

And in large part in thanks to that line, they have four quarters of December football to play, and a chance at a sixth state title.