Just what is a dirt dog?
Let Sumner High School’s right tackle Chase Skuza explain.
“To be a dirt dog, you have to be nasty and in the trenches and be able to hit anybody play after play,” Skuza said.
It’s a Sumner offensive lineman.
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Or, as they call themselves, the DDs. If you’re attending one of the offensive line’s dirt dog dinners, then you’re attending a Triple-D.
“We want our linemen to be dirt dogs,” Sumner coach Keith Ross said. “We don’t want them to wonder how nice they look or how clean their uni is. We want them to go out there and get in a fight.”
This offensive line has paved the way for everything Sumner has accomplished this season. Sumner (12-0) has rushed for 2,967 yards as a team and will play in the state semifinals against Camas (12-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver, Washington — the first time Sumner has played this late in the season since 1977.
Sumner’s bookend tackles — 6-foot-6, 290-pound Skuza and 6-7, 255-pound left tackle Seth Carnahan — are larger than some college offensive linemen, and the best combo Ross said he’s ever had.
“I’ve never had tackles this big, and probably never will,” Ross said.
They wear you down. Against Woodinville last week, Sumner’s first three drives went 13 plays for a field goal, 12 plays before punting, then a 13-play touchdown drive.
“You can’t play our style of football without fit, fast and nasty,” Ross said. “That’s our term we use for our linemen.”
Last year, Ross called his offensive line a band of misfits.
Not this year. Now they’re dirt dogs.
It’s the position group that most resembles Ross — not just his physical appearance, but his personality.
Ross is a self-described dirt dog and “a warrior who wants to smash faces.” The Enumclaw graduate is a former linebacker who played at Central Washington University.
“I spent my whole life trying to avoid O-linemen,” Ross said. “All of it starts with the offensive line, and I didn’t know that until I became a head coach and was unsuccessful for years. Young coaches think it’s all about them and some pretty skilled kids.”
Sumner has 49 wins in the past five years. It went unbeaten through the 2A SPSL in 2013, then the 3A SPSL last year and the 4A SPSL this year.
The five years before that, Sumner won 20 games. It lost 83-0 to Lakes in 2007 and lost 66-8 to Evergreen of Seattle in 2008.
Then the “Spartan Revolution” happened.
They even had T-shirts with the phrasing. Ross went from seeing 14 kids in the weight room to 60.
“We were wallowing in our mire,” Ross said. “We decided to go find kids in the hallways, get them in the weight room. We got kids to buy in, and then we simplified what we were doing on offense to get some confidence.”
As in, run the ball and play like dirt dogs.
Carnahan was a basketball player. But Ross kept pestering him and his parents to get him to play football, telling them he could turn Carnahan into an NCAA Division I lineman.
Carnahan came out for football last year, and before he played a down the University of Idaho had offered him a football scholarship.
“He’s just so passionate,” Carnahan said of Ross. “He wants everybody to be their best. He’s going to get you wanting to run through a wall.”
Ross isn’t discussing X’s and O’s before games, he’s firing up his players. He doesn’t want to out-scheme the other team, he wants to outplay them.
And he wears his heart on his sleeve.
It’s what so endearing about him. But sometimes it’s what gets the best of him.
He’ll shout at players and coaches alike. One time he was so overcome by the heat of the moment that he told his assistant coaches he was firing all of them. They waited for him after the game, but by then he had forgot he had even said it.
“I’m nicer than I used to be,” Ross said.
“Yes, he is,” said his son, Luke Ross, a junior quarterback.
“Sometimes it’s not pretty,” Keith Ross said. “This is the only thing that does it to me, though. Not kids at school, nothing.
“I was a bad competitor growing up in sports. I was a guy who went too hard all of the time, and it mattered to me more than it mattered to anyone else. I used to get mad at my own players and everybody. I’m just super competitive. I try not to be competitive with my life now. Football is still my one outlet to let that go.”
Skuza was surprised to see a different side of Ross when the offensive line held one of its Wednesday night dirt dog dinners at the coach’s home.
“He was talking to his wife all kindly and we were like, ‘That’s weird. We’ve never heard him talk so nicely,’ ” Skuza said.
“Then he sits on the couch and starts telling jokes and talking to us normally and we’re like, ‘This is weird.’ Because we had just seen him as coach, yelling at us and stuff. Then we got to see him on a personal level.”
The thick-built, 16-year Sumner coach last cut his prickly gray facial hair and thick, long hair more than six years ago, he said. His wife, to his delight, gave him permission to grow it out.
Some look-alikes have since sprung around Sumner.
There was Sumner girls basketball coach Jordan Moog, who on Halloween re-created Ross’ hair.
His oldest son, Luke Ross, said he last cut his hair before basketball season his freshman year.
His youngest son Eli, 11, is already growing out the hair. Then there’s wide receiver Tyson Rainwater and linebacker Ben Wilson.
“Except Ben drives a Beemer,” Keith Ross joked.
The person who most resembles Ross, according to the coach, is left guard Aaron Roth, who shows up to pregame meetings wearing cowboy boots, a large belt buckle, cowboy hat and game uniform.
“He’s the actual dirt dog,” Ross said.
This is the most talented team all-around that Ross said he’s ever had. Which is why it is in the semifinals for the first time in his coaching tenure.
But he said it starts with those dirt dogs in the trenches.
“It’s our style,” Ross said. “My style is our style. We’re going to lift hard all year, and we are going to go out there and out-execute you. We run what we do because it’s downhill and physical and in your face.
“They are not misfits this year. They look like a college line, so they can’t be misfits. They’re nasty dirt dogs.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
‘WALLOWING IN OUR OWN MIRE’
Sumner coach Keith Ross said it took a “Spartan Revolution” in 2012 to get kids in the weight room year-round and adopt a dirt-dog mentality to turn the Sumner football program around.
5 years — 20 wins
12-0 so far