Coach Matt Whitmire has a few players on his Centralia High football roster he thinks might prompt questions like, “Where did that guy come from?”
His quarterback, Joey Aliff, a third-year starter for the Tigers, is not one of those guys. He is The Guy around here.
“It’s nice to be the senior and the actual leader,” Aliff said. “It’s nice to know that you’re that guy.”
Aliff is a multisport athlete — basketball as a freshman and sophomore, wrestling last year, baseball in the spring — and he loves ’em all. But if he had to choose …
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“Football,” he said “There’s so much hype. The level of intensity is through the roof.”
Whitmire, entering his fourth year as head man for Centralia, said Aliff — a “multidimensional, dual-threat kid” — deserves the spotlight.
“There’s been tremendous growth with his leadership abilities,” Whitmire said. “He’s the classic example of a kid who leads by example. His leadership lies in what he does.”
Last year, on a 3-6 Tigers team, Aliff threw for 743 yards (completing 61 of 118 passes), with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ran for another 453 yards on 82 carries.
Since last season, Aliff said, he’s worked on his passing mechanics — on finishing and following through on his throws. He gained 15 pounds to get near 200 on his 6-foot frame.
Whitmire’s confidence in his quarterback is such that the Tigers have revamped their offensive schemes — no tight end, single-back formations, and a 50-50 run-pass mix.
“Joey’s earned the right to be able to put the game in his hands,” Whitmire said.
When Aliff throws the ball, one obvious target will be senior wide receiver Jordan Thomas (6-3, 190), described by Whitmire as one of the Centralia area’s best athletes in 20 years. Thomas doubles as one of the best defensive backs in the 2A Evergreen Conference at free safety, Whitmire said.
Senior wide receiver Cale Shute (6-3, 185) will be one of those “where did he come from” players, Whitmire predicts. Along with Thomas and 6-3, 190-pound senior Layne Osborne, Whitmire pointed out, “We have some good height on the edges.”
The quarterback likes what he’ll see when he drops back to pass.
“We have some pretty athletic guys,” Aliff said, “Get ’em the ball in space and let ’em run.”
The Tigers’ offensive line is anchored by senior captain Brayden Andrews (5-11, 230) at center.
“He brings that true wrestler mentality to the trenches,” Whitmire said.
The guys running the ball include senior Nathan Yahn, who rushed for 543 yards on 96 carries last year.
Senior fullback Nat Lopez (5-11, 220), a returning starter, is another player the coach believes will surprise. Junior Jose Pineda, who missed all of last season with a broken collarbone suffered in the season-opening jamboree, “probably has the best feet of our entire team,” Whitmire said.
The Tigers are changing things up on defense, too, moving to a four-man front from a five-man, Whitmire said. Nick Edwards, an agile 6-6, 265-pound senior who missed most of last season with injuries, is a big reason Whitmire says, “We will attack this year.”
Edwards is drawing recruiting interest from Big Sky Conference schools thanks to speed that lets him “run sideline to sideline and chase down the majority of skill players in this league,” Whitmire said.
Senior linebacker Derek Vandelaarschot (6-0, 170) returns after racking up 96 tackles, 52 unassisted, last season.
Tumwater, Whitmire said, is the team the Tigers are still chasing in the 2A EvCo. Black Hills came forth with a playoff season last year, and cross-county rival W.F. West will contend again, he said.
Whitmire professes to be ”cautiously optimistic” about the Tigers’ own prospects. Aliff, the triggerman, said, “We’re on the same page.”
And just like the Tiger players he thinks will emerge to surprise opponents, Whitmire thinks his team could surprise, too.
“That we could upset some people, get in the district cross(over), win the district cross, and get into the playoffs,” he said. “That’s our goal.”