How do you sustain a league championship-caliber high school football program?
That’s what Emerald Ridge High is trying to figure out after the Jaguars won the program’s first ever Class 4A South Puget Sound League South Division title and played in the 4A state playoffs for the first time.
High school football can be a cruel sport where high turnover rates can leave a team with far too many unknowns from year to year.
“Well, if there’s anything I learned in my short time doing this is you cannot want it (as a coach) for your kids — they have to want it,” coach Graham Madland said. “We have kids coming out and taking on those leadership roles. They’re getting other kids motivated.”
Last year in spring — and even before these camps — the senior class took that message to heart, and put in the effort to see it come to fruition. And in doing so, great things came about during the season.
A year later that same feeling amongst the athletes still lingers, instilled into every group working through their individual drills.
“We worked hard during the offseason, playing multiple sports to get better here,” Andrew Boston said. “We feel that this team next year will have to earn that championship … continue what the seniors left us.”
Boston credited his work on the boys basketball team last winter as a reason he’s improved by the time of this camp.
“It’s awesome being able to see their work pay off,” coach Torey Donovan said. “If they put in the time and work, taking care of their responsibilities like school work, they are going see the rewards on the field — as athletes in general.”
Boston had a taste last week at Emerald Ridge camp at the high school, where he was breaking open and making highlight-style catches during goal line passing drills.
Time and again, new quarterback Logan Skoda found Boston leaping in the air and making a grab — until coaches put defensive back Cody O’Connell on Boston.
It was a one-on-one battle to see who could stop Boston.
“(Boston’s) ability to go up and get the ball will be a big help for us,” Skoda said.
As Boston broke at the snap and hit O’Connell with a stutter step, the smaller cornerback wasn’t fooled and forced Boston out of his route as Skoda just sailed the pass beyond his receiver’s reach. O’Connell did his job to the team and coaches delight.
“I think that’s the trend (here) than when I was in high school,” Madland said. “You’re seeing kids coming in a little but more physically prepared than you’d see in the past. It’s exciting for us.”
These are when the championships are won — that was the message all of the coaches at Emerald Ridge have hammered into their players since they’ve come to the program. The effort put here only gets a team better for the upcoming season.
“I just think to try and come and do our best,” Skoda said. “Everyone is going to have to step up and put this team on our backs.”
The Emerald Ridge program isn’t just about getting better and being good enough anymore. There’s more expectations on the team now. Winning one unexpected league title is nice, but this was never about winning one title or making the playoffs.
It has always been about creating a culture of winning where the team and program is no longer afraid to succeed.
“Because we had a great group of senior last year, they just set it for us,” Skoda concluded. “I think we have the same thing carry over this season where everyone wants to the best they can — same as last year, everyone just kept competing.”