When Mark Smith was interviewing for Rochester High School’s head football coaching position, he spoke in detail about his love for working in small towns.
“But then I referred to Rochester as a 1A school,” Smith said. “The athletic director quickly corrected me, ‘We’re 2A.’ ”
After two years of being stuck in Class 2A limbo — playing in the 1A Evergreen Conference and facing a variety of hoops to advance to the postseason — the Warriors are now, officially, a 2A school for this season.
Smith has the credentials to lead Rochester back to the 2A EvCo, which it rejoins after a two-year absence.
He coached 23 years at Tacoma Baptist, creating the program from scratch in 1991, and turning the Crusaders into a perennial state power. Four years into the experiment, Tacoma Baptist found itself in the state playoffs. The following year the Crusaders were playing for the 2B state title.
An additional 13 trips to the state tournament followed, including runner-up showings in 2000 and 2001.
“We’re pretty proud of what was accomplished (at Tacoma Baptist),” said Smith, who coached a trio of Division I athletes during his tenure with the Crusaders, the last coming in 2011 with Walker Williams, who went on to play at the University of Wisconsin.
“We were basically a B-sized school opting to play up against 1A competition, and we were still able to be successful,” Smith said.
Smith faces a similar situation at Rochester, and hopes the results eventually will turn out the same.
Rochester enters 2A EvCo as the smallest school by a large margin. The 2A classification features the second-widest discrepancy in enrollment in the state after 4A. Rochester is the fifth-smallest school in the classification, not including opt-ups.
One of Rochester’s league opponents, Tumwater, is projected to have nearly 500 more students enrolled during the next four years, according to Washington Interscholastic Activities Association figures released earlier this year.
Playing one Goliath is asking a lot. How does a team prepare for a whole slate of them during a season?
“The big thing for us is we want to get better every day. We want to end practice better than we were yesterday,” Smith said. “That’s our focus. We will compete every time we step out on the field.
“We can’t control who we are playing. We can control how we play and the effort we give. The kids are excited about the challenge.”
Tumwater, which lost in the 2A state championship game last season, will be absent from Rochester’s schedule this season, but the Warriors played several other 2A EvCo teams last year..
Rochester, which won four games last season, opened by defeating Centralia, 14-7, and later knocked off Aberdeen, which is joining the conference this year, 27-6. The Warriors lost 42-7 to Black Hills, which finished second in the conference.
“The players are familiar with some of the teams we will be facing,” said Smith, who has 41 players out, but hopes to see that number increase to 55 by this time next season. “I think that’s going to be really helpful.”
Another valuable aspect for this year’s Warriors is the fact they return five senior offensive linemen in Michael Barabe, Adan Uribe, Chase Edminster, Corey Urvina and Tyler Roudabush.
“We have a lot of new skilled players,” Smith said. “We still have a lot of holes to fill. We still have a couple kids battling it out for the starting quarterback position. But to have those senior linemen back makes this transition so much easier for us.”
Hired in May, which resulted in a “jumbled spring,” Smith has made up for lost time by installing a faster practice system, something the players have embraced.
“Everything we do is quick around here,” Smith said. “The kids have really bought in. It’s going to take some time for everything to sink in, but we want to build something here.”
Rochester Warriors football schedule
All games at 7 p.m. Home games at Rochester High School; road games at the campus of the opposing high school, unless otherwise noted.
Sept. 2: Tenino at Rochester
Sept. 9: Rochester at Hudson’s Bay, at Kiggins Bowl in Vancouver
Sept. 16: Charles Wright Academy at Rochester
Sept. 23: Rochester at Montesano
Sept. 30: Rochester at Elma
Oct. 7: *W.F. West at Rochester
Oct. 14: *Centralia at Rochester
Oct. 21: *Aberdeen at Rochester
Oct. 28: *Rochester at Black Hills, at Tumwater District Stadium
* 2A Evergreen Conference game