The Washington High School football team went 1-9 four seasons ago and last made a trip to the state playoffs in 1990 — well before any of its current players were born.
But then last year happened. The Patriots snuck into the 2A district playoffs and upset 2A South Puget Sound League counterpart Fife on the road to break a 26-year state-playoff drought.
They followed with a 44-7 drubbing at the hands of Tumwater, but that season got something brewing.
“It was a huge year,” said returning quarterback Martin Mendiola, taking in Washington’s first practice of the season Wednesday as the 2017 high school football season officially began. “It’s probably one of the best teams I’ve been on since I started playing football.”
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
And the Patriots return Mendiola under center this year, Josh Camacho at running back and a two-time all-league lineman in Nate Evans among some key pieces.
“We just want to win,” Evans said. “Last year we wanted to win and we got to state. There isn’t one person who doesn’t want to win.”
And there might not be one person who can find Mendiola or Camacho in the backfield.
Mendiola is 5-foot-8 and Camacho is 5-foot-3 — though ninth-year coach Mike Von Rueden joked that he’ll probalby list Camacho as 5-foot-6 on his roster.
They combined to rush for 1,283 yards, while Mendiola also threw for 711 yards. Camacho led the team with 127 carries for 838 yards last season.
Mendiola was born in Saipan. He said his father is 5-foot-3, but was also a former quarterback in California.
“I look up to guys like Russell Wilson, Tayvon Austin and even Earl Thomas,” Mendiola said. “They’re small but they do so much on the field. Just because I’m smaller doens’t mean I can’t do what other people can do.”
And Camacho placed eighth at the 2A state wrestling championships last year in the 132-pound class as a sophomore.
“He’ll run over a big guy like me,” Evans said. “He doesn’t care. He’ll lower his shoulder.”
The challenge will be replacing 27 seniors, including three who were four-year starters on the offensive line.
Trench play has been a staple of Von Rueden’s programs the past few yeras. Evans is the pillar at center, working a construction job in the offseason to stay in shape, he said. But the Patriots will need to figure out the pieces around him to contend with a league that will include a revenge-seeking Fife. Washington hosts Sultan in its first game on Sept. 1 and then travels to Fife for a state rematch the following week.
“Our backs got lost pretty well last year and it was easier because we had a lot of big linemen,” Von Rueden said. “That’s a place we’re going to have to grow.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677