In football camp last spring, new Gig Harbor High School football coach George Fairhart talked to his team about closing the gap.
The Tides, after all, were behind schedule.
New offense. New defense. New coaching staff. New terminology. New everything.
So does Fairhart feel the gap has been closed as Gig Harbor gets ready to kick off its season?
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“I think we’re where we need to be,” Fairhart said. “We’re where most teams are at this point in the season. We’ve installed all our offense and defense, the kids seem to be picking it up. Now we’re ready to go.”
Gig Harbor fielded a young team a season ago, so Fairhart will have a solid core of players to work with. The Tides posted a 6-5 record a season ago, reaching the Class 3A state playoffs before being bounced by Kamiakin, 45-0.
Senior center and defensive lineman Taylor Elligsen said the new coaching staff has been great so far.
“They’re really good, really positive,” Elligsen said. “It’s a new system. They’re really making sure we know what we’re doing. If we mess it up, they just say, ‘Hey, we’ll go get it next time.’ They’re not getting mad or anything.”
On offense, the Tides will look similar to a year ago, running a spread offense. This year’s edition might feature some Wing-T, also.
“It’s not much of a change,” Elligsen said. “It hasn’t been too difficult to learn a new offense.”
One of the challenges last year’s coaching staff faced was a murky quarterback situation. Fairhart still hasn’t named a starter prior to the season opening, but said seniors Nick Yockey and Ryan Baerg are vying for the job. Dual-threat junior Ben Hollenbeck, who finished the season as the team’s starting QB last season, is moving to receiver.
“I’m taking more of a utility role and I’ll play more defense this year, too,” Hollenbeck said.
Hollenbeck said he’s “a little bummed” not to be playing quarterback anymore, but is ready to help the team in any way he can.
“I just like having the ball in my hands,” Hollenbeck said. “I trust Yockey and Baerg to get me the ball and get everyone else the ball. I think we’re going to have a really good offense.”
So far, neither Yockey or Baerg have run away with the job in fall camp.
“Some days, one looks better than the other and then the next day, it kind of switches,” Fairhart said. “We’re still undecided there. They’re both good. There’s no downside to that. They can both play.”
Fairhart said he wouldn’t be opposed to a by-committee approach to the quarterback position.
“I’ve done it before,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. With guard, we’re rotating three guards. At tackle, we’re rotating three tackles. That’s not a big deal. The same thing at quarterback. Fans and parents are more dialed into ‘That’s not OK.’ It’s actually OK to play a couple kids. We have the luxury of having two quarterbacks that can play.”
Gig Harbor returns star receiver Kellen Gregory on offense. Linebacker Tommy Williams anchors the Tides’ defense.
“Taylor Elligsen, Tommy Williams, Kellen Gregory are a few guys that have stood out,” Fairhart said. “To transition as a leader and accept a new staff and new schemes, those kids have done a great job buying in and leading the team.”
Gig Harbor opens its season with a road trip, traveling to Bellingham to take on Squalicum on Friday (Sept. 1). Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. at Civic Stadium.
“We’ve been looking at film,” Hollenbeck said. “It’s a long drive up there. We’re just going to go out there and try to get the win.”
Fairhart expects a tough, well-fought game.
“They’re very good,” Fairhart said. “They have good athletes, they’re very well coached. That’s a big challenge. They’re not a weak opponent. They’re very good.”
GIG HARBOR 2017 SCHEDULE
Friday, Sept. 1: Gig Harbor at Squalicum, 8 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 8: Spanaway Lake at Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 15: Peninsula at Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 22: Gig Harbor at Yelm, 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 29: Central Kitsap at Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 6: Gig Harbor at Shelton, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 13: Timberline at Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 20: Capital at Gig Harbor, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 27: Gig Harbor at North Thurston, 7 p.m.