There’s no cut-and-dried reason why eight South Sound prep football programs carry winning records through four weeks.
Even Sid Otton, in his 42nd year as the coach of Class 2A first-ranked Tumwater, couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve got a run of some teams that are pretty experienced, and got a little momentum, and focused on one game at a time and found themselves 4-0.”
Steve Schultz, in his 14th year at River Ridge, thinks a lot of credit is due to the “old guard” of coaches — of 15 area schools, seven head coaches have held their positions for at least 10 years, five coaches for at least 20.
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Black Hills coach Kirk Stevens attributes some success to strong senior classes. At Olympia, coach Bill Beattie has developed consistent depth and chemistry — most of his varsity starters have played football together since second grade.
All could be contributing factors.
What is clear — the South Sound has shown strength so far.
Four teams — Tumwater, No. 10 Olympia, River Ridge and Black Hills – are still undefeated. The last time that four area schools went undefeated through Week 4 was 2004, when Timberline, Capital, Shelton and River Ridge all completed the feat.
Another four schools — Yelm, No. 10 Tenino, Elma and Rainier — are 3-1 through Week 4.
Schultz said the hunger to beat other schools in the area has resulted in a higher standard of play.
“When your target is high, you really start to go after it,” he said. “Everybody wants to win.”
Which, Schultz said, motivates the players to work harder.
“It sounds like I’m talking lab talk, but that’s really what it is,” he said.
However it’s broken down, the field is bursting with talent, and the four unbeaten teams have yet to be chased down.
No. 1 Tumwater
League: 2A Evergreen.
Last time started 4-0: 2014.
Season outcome: Finished 13-1, lost to Sedro-Woolley in state semifinals.
Tumwater is plenty sustainable.
During the last 10 seasons, the T-Birds have started 4-0 five times. Their last losing record through four games was in 2004, when they started 1-3.
Otton attributes a lot of that to consistency with the staff. Tumwater’s least-tenured coach has been with the program since 1999.
“There’s tremendous continuity with the staff, and they all play a great role in helping these kids develop,” Otton said.
Senior offensive lineman Tommy Brassfield, who has played varsity for three years, agrees.
“It’s not rebuild; we reload,” Brassfield said. “The coaches are the biggest part, because even if we haven’t had the most talent, they’ve been able to get that potential out of the players that maybe aren’t good junior year, but come senior year, they’re just way, way better.”
The development has culminated in depth, which has helped Tumwater’s offense early, as wide receivers Easton Trakel and Griffin Shea both have been sidelined by injuries.
Still, the T-Birds have put up 174 points in the first four weeks, including a season-high 49 against La Center in Week 3.
“Kids just step in, the next man, and do a job,” Otton said.
But it’s about to get more lethal.
Trakel (hamstring) and Shea (concussion) both are probable to play in Friday’s game against Columbia River (2-2).
“Speed’s a pretty big factor, and both of them have speed,” Otton said.
Though, as the season is concerned, Otton prefers to take it slow — a week-by-week approach.
“Our focus is on trying to control what we can control, which is our team, and get five, six percent better than we were the week before,” he said.
By that logic, Tumwater could be 54 percent better by the end of the regular season.
“That would be good; I’ll take that,” Otton joked.
No. 10 Olympia
League: 4A Narrows.
Last time started 4-0: 2011.
Season outcome: Finished 9-2, lost to Lake Stevens in first round of state playoffs.
Beattie rounded up the Bears and posed this question at practice Thursday: Are we good, or have we played teams that aren’t?
The Bears decisively beat Ferris, Capital, South Kitsap and Timberline during the first four weeks, but will face a postseason barometer in KingCo’s Issaquah (2-2) on Friday.
“We’re going to see where we are a little bit,” Beattie said.
On paper, Olympia looks like the No. 10 team in the state in the 4A classification.
Running back Scott Gunther has posted three consecutive games of 200-plus yards rushing, and has rushed for 12 touchdowns.
The Bears scored more than 40 points in all four games, and allowed only 39 combined by opponents. In 16 quarters of football, Olympia has rendered opponents scoreless in 11 of them.
But Friday has the potential to gauge the direction for the remainder of the season.
“I think Issaquah will be the best team we’ve played so far, and will be a good test for (Gig Harbor), who we play later on,” wide receiver David Woodward said.
The Bears host third-ranked Gig Harbor (4-0) and its hyped offense, led by quarterback Davis Alexander, in Week 7.
But Olympia’s offense has been plenty explosive to start. Beattie said he has a “three-headed monster” in the combination of Gunther, Woodward and freshman running back Jaden Toussaint.
Both Gunther and Woodward returned from injuries this season, while Toussaint has added an extra spurt of energy. The three have combined for 20 of Olympia’s 26 touchdowns.
But Gig Harbor and 4A Narrows rival Bellarmine (3-1) aside, the first test is Issaquah.
“This is getting us ready, if we think we’ve got a shot down the line,” Beattie said.
League: 2A Evergreen.
Last time started 4-0: Never.
The way coach Kirk Stevens sees it, Black Hills is 0-0.
“We can’t worry about where we are and what people are saying,” Stevens said. “We’re 0-0, because, we lose this week, now all the sudden we’re at the bottom of the league rankings.”
The 4-0 non-league start is the first in the history of the program, but the celebration was short-lived. Stevens said the team is excited, but has to keep perspective as it starts the part of its schedule that dictates playoff berth.
“We kind of broke our schedule into parts, and the first season was the first four games,” he said. “We enjoyed it, and loved it, and celebrated it, but now the second season is starting.”
The Wolves open 2A Evergreen play at W.F. West (2-2) on Friday. Senior linebacker T.J. Borden said “everything changes” with the start of league play.
“You’ve got to show up,” Borden said. “You can’t just walk out onto the field and expect to win.”
The Wolves lost the rivalry matchup, 26-7, last season, and haven’t bested the Bearcats since 2006. What’s more, Black Hills has never beat a team coached by Bob Wollan — including when he coached at Rochester.
Containing W.F. West quarterback Elijah Johnson will be key for the Wolves. But the defense — which has allowed only four touchdowns in its last three games — should answer the challenge. Which Borden says has a lot to do with a refined attitude.
“We’re definitely not chipping at each other when stuff’s going wrong,” Borden said. “And we’re building each other up instead of putting each other down when bad stuff happens in games.”
Not that much has.
The Wolves’ offense outscored opponents by 99 points during the first four weeks, and heavily relies on a seasoned offensive line that has contributed to 14 rushing touchdowns.
League: 2A SPSL.
Last time started 4-0: 2010.
Season outcome: Finished 5-4, no playoff berth.
When Schultz started coaching at River Ridge, he committed to taking no shortcuts.
He decided to always do what is best for the team — whether it was a disciplinary issue with a player, a staffing change, or whatever the team needed to be successful.
“I feel right now we have the perfect storm of player participation, a combination of very good athletes who are committed and dedicated, and the best coaching staff I’ve had out here,” Schultz said.
The Hawks have played through Week 4 with a winning record in five of their last six seasons. One of the biggest factors, Schultz said, is finding a group of upperclassmen that gels.
“The challenge here is getting two consecutive classes in a row,” Schultz said. “When it’s back-and-forth, we’re struggling to be .500.”
This year, it isn’t a problem. Schultz said he has a mix of juniors and seniors that has led River Ridge thus far.
Senior quarterback Kobe Key has been consistent in the air and on the ground. He has tossed for six touchdowns, and rushed for another four. Running back Gustavo Diaz has done a considerable amount of legwork in the middle of the field, and added four touchdowns of his own.
The Hawks host White River (0-4) on Friday.
Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473