The long wait for football fans in Lewis and South Thurston counties is nearly over. Nearly nine months after state champions were crowned last fall, new faces — both on the field and the sidelines and booths — are getting set to start camp in anticipation of the 2022 season in September.
Before camp opens, read up on the top storylines in leagues local to The Chronicle’s coverage area.
It’s no secret that Tumwater has pretty much owned the 2A EvCo for nearly the last two decades. Since 2006, the Thunderbirds have failed to win the league just twice.
Last season was no different, the T-Birds closest league contest was a 34-0 win over EvCo runner-up W.F. West. However, the perennial top dog T-Birds lost a ton of offensive and defensive production from 2021 — including a pair of Division I tight ends and all-league defensive lineman, Ryan Otton and Austin Terry — and the Bearcats return just about every key contributor.
Though history says Tumwater will reload and replace with some younger and sure-to-be-proven playmakers and will again be the favorites in league, W.F. West has the pieces to compete in 2022.
Gavin Fugate will return at quarterback after suffering a collarbone injury near the end of last season. The senior threw for 1,313 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushed for 535 and nine more scores in a shortened season. Most of his top targets from last year — including sophomore Gage Brumfield and senior Cameron Amoroso — return, and perhaps more importantly, the Bearcats will feature an uber-experienced and talented line.
Daniel Matagi and William Buzzard, two of the strongest defensive lineman in the league and all-league picks, return, along with top linebacker Blake Ely.
Elsewhere, Rochester has made a push toward the top half of the league under third-year coach AJ Easley, but will have to replace the production of quarterback Landon Hawes and top playmaker Talon Betts.
The Warriors should also feature a fairly experienced line, led by senior Owen Gillaspie. Tate Quarnstrom is another player to watch as a playmaker.
Centralia and Black Hills are both in the midst of rebuilds, with the Tigers breaking in a new system under first-year coach Dustin McGee, and the Wolves looking to build on Garrett Baldwin’s first year at the helm in 2021.
Posting a 10-2 record and taking a trip to the state quarterfinals a year ago, Tenino football could rise to even further heights as coach Cary Nagel enters his seventh season coaching the Beavers.
Though, the big question mark for the Beavers is whether they can easily replace the production of do-it-all workhorse and Oregon State football signee Takari Hickle.
Hickle accounted for 2,091 yards and 24 touchdowns on offense — almost 40% of Tenino’s total offensive production — and racked up 16 tackles for loss and nine sacks on defense in 2021.
The answer in 2022 for the Beavers, will likely come from a group of players rather than one workhorse.
All-league pick Dylan Spicer is back in the backfield, and is likely due for a large chunk of carries as perhaps the Beavers’ fastest back, but Cody Strawn is another player that could factor on offense after missing the entire 2021 season. Senior Triston Whitaker will also almost certainly be a key, after totaling the fourth most touchdowns on the ground for the Beavs last year.
Elsewhere in the league, Eatonville, after dropping down by 2A, will continue to be strong and likely be favored to repeat as league champions. Montesano, after some injury issues and a young team in 2021 saw them finish third in the league last year, will also be on the rise.
So the question is: was 2021 an aberration for the Beavs, or can Tenino keep competing with the big boys in the 1A Evergreen?
Yes, Keith Olson is a huge — both literally and figuratively — loss for the Tigers in 2022. Gavin Parker, Lucas Dahl, and company will all be missed as well for the state runner-up Napavine Tigers.
But perhaps no team in 2B football returns as much production and talent as Napavine, still bitter from a state title loss to Kalama last fall.
Ashton Demarest will enter his second year at the helm of the offense at quarterback, Cael Stanley returns for likely more touches as the Tigers’ primary back, and a slew of young players eager for their chance to shine will be ready to compete for yet another state title run.
Outside the Tigers, though, it's less clear who could compete on the big stage in Class 2B’s strongest league.
Kalama is replacing all-time quarterback and standout Jackson Esary at quarterback, its head coach, and the rest of a senior-laden roster that won a chip last season.
Onalaska, which made the state semifinals a year ago and won a state title in 2019, will replace its entire backfield in 2022 after the departures of Gunnar Talley, Marshall Haight, and Kolby Mozingo.
Toledo, which made a run to the state quarterfinals and likely could have been a state semifinalist if it had not run into Kalama, will need to find a new quarterback after Wyatt Nef’s graduation and fill holes left by Justin Filla and Joshill Tilton.
Though the Chinooks, Loggers, and Riverhawks have all proven that they can reload and compete in the league regardless of graduations, who will separate and maybe even compete with Napavine in league play?
Adna, who will compete under a new head coach for the first time in over two decades, should be improved as well, having returned most of its roster, and Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, after finishing third in its division in 2021, could also make a deep state run.
Still new to the 8-man football scene, Mossyrock could be poised for big improvement this fall. With one more year of experience under their belts, the Kolb brothers — Keegan and Easton — could make some massive noise for the Vikings this season.
Keegan Kolb’s 1,713 all-purpose yards and 18 touchdowns were some of the best offensive marks among all players in 1B last season, and with his brother, Easton, at quarterback, they’ll be sure to put up big numbers again.
Still, it will be a tall order to unseat powerhouse Naselle at the top of the league order. The Comets easily won the league and made the state semifinals in 2021, falling to eventual state champion Almira-Coulee-Hartline.
Winlock, fresh off its best season in years, will have to replace almost all of its offense in 2022. Roughly 80% of the Cardinals’ all-purpose yards graduated last season in do-it-all tailback Nolan Swofford, quarterback Neal Patching, and playmakers Collin Regalado and Tallen Lofberg.
Still, the Cards have the pieces to have another strong year, with speedster Payton Sickles returning and Chase Scofield another potential player to watch this fall.