Tim Bullus was going through the interview process to become Tenino High School’s head football coach when senior lineman Jack Burnham threw him what could have been a curveball.
“How are you going to earn our trust?” Burnham asked.
“I’m going to trust you,” Bullus replied.
A moment of silence followed. It was like a scene from the TV series “Friday Night Lights,” which Bullus and his wife Cori “binge watched” once he was hired.
But like any good script, the Beavers’ preseason has already featured some conflict and resolution.
In late June, Tenino attended the University of Oregon team camp, despite bringing far fewer players than some of the football powers on hand — Eastside Catholic, Mead, Clackamas.
The camp featured three-a-day practices, the dorm was a mile from the playing field and, with fewer than 30 players, each Beaver was enduring more repetitions of every drill than guys from larger schools.
On the third of four days, Bullus, who came to Tenino from the defensive coordinator’s job at Camden Catholic High School in New Jersey, sensed a brewing mutiny against his taskmaster style and called a meeting.
“We were freaking out,” said Jacob Gilbreath, the Beavers’ senior center and nose guard. The team prepared for a tongue-lashing. Bullus surprised his players.
“He told us, “if you guys have anything to say, let’s get it out in the open now,’” Gilbreath said. “It was a come-to-God moment.”
After hearing the players out, Bullus surprised them again.
“I told them if one way to have them come together was by them hating me, I was fine with it,” he said.
The spell was broken.
“Camp was just hard,” said two-way lineman Tyrick Weyrauch, like both Burnham and Gilbreath one of Tenino’s five captains. “We were tired and exhausted from playing both sides of the ball. We needed somebody to blame, and Coach was there. We’ve been a whole different team since that meeting.”
Good enough to run much of Bullus’ new no-huddle spread offense up and down the practice field in 15-second increments after only a few days of practice. Enthusiasm runs through both the Tenino coaching staff and players.
A year ago, under veteran coach Randy Swilley, the Beavers were far from unsuccessful, finishing 6-3 overall, in third place in the 1A Evergreen Conference and ending the season on a high note with a 47-13 thrashing of rival Rochester. Yet many players felt disconnected from the game plan.
“Everything revolved around two guys,” said sophomore receiver and cornerback Jace Griffis, named a captain by Bullus after a freshman season in which he made three interceptions and 20 solo tackles.
Since-graduated Thomas Pier rushed for 1,668 yards and caught eight of the 27 passes the Beavers completed all season in Swilley’s single wing offense.
“I’m so excited for this year’s offense, there’s so much more ball movement,” Griffis said.
“When we win games with this offense, it’s because the defense won’t know where the ball is going,” Bullus said. “We’re playing basketball on a football field.”
Interestingly, Bullus added Tenino basketball coach Joe Chirhart to his staff as wide receivers and safeties coach. Chirhart believes what happens under those Friday night lights at Beaver Stadium will make a difference all school year.
“We’re setting the tone for all the sports,” he said. “If we set the bar high in football, I have to ramp up my basketball program.”
Line coach Mike Morales is a former Tenino player happy to be a part of the new coaching staff.
“We’ve always had good, corn-fed athletes here in Tenino, guys who grow up playing together in Thurston County Youth Football,” Morales said. “Now we have an actual football team that’s going to get the job done. We’re going to be a team of guys who lift each other up.
“We may not be top 10 yet, but we’re getting there.”
Tenino Beavers football schedule
All games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Home games at Tenino High School; road games at the campus of the opposing high school, unless otherwise noted.
Sept. 2: Tenino at Rochester
Sept. 10: Tenino at Bellevue Christian at 5 p.m. at Lake Washington High School
Sept. 16: White Salmon at Tenino
Sept. 23: Stevenson at Tenino
Sept. 30: *Tenino at Hoquiam
Oct. 7: *Tenino at Forks
Oct. 14: *Elma at Tenino
Oct. 21: *Montesano at Tenino
Oct. 28: Tenino at North Kitsap
*1A Evergreen Conference game