High School Sports

Stadium’s Wendling helps turn around football program in a big way

Stadium quarterback Hunter Wendling avoids Peninsula defenders in last week’s game. The Tigers, behind Wendling, made the playoffs last year for the first time in school history.
Stadium quarterback Hunter Wendling avoids Peninsula defenders in last week’s game. The Tigers, behind Wendling, made the playoffs last year for the first time in school history. dmontesino@thenewstribune.com

When most colleges look at Stadium High School senior quarterback Hunter Wendling, they likely see a player they consider undersized.

They might want to take a closer look at the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder. All he’s done is help turnaround a winless Tigers team into a playoff contender.

Wendling, who transferred from Tahoma after his freshman year, took over as Stadium’s starter as a sophomore. That year the Tigers went 3-7 after going 0-10 in 2014. The upward climb continued in 2016 when the Tigers finished 6-4 and made the playoffs for the first time in school history.

“Having a guy like Hunter is kind of a coach’s dream,” fourth-year head coach Thomas Ford said. “He’s another coach on the field, a guy that knows the game plan once we install it. He’s going to do extra film study on his own. He’s very aware of what’s happening. Having him on our team means the world.

“He’s really been the cornerstone of the change here in our program.”

As a junior, Wendling had a breakout season. He was first-team All-Pierce County League, finishing first in the league in yards (2,789), touchdowns (23) and efficiency (107). His statistics have gotten the attention of several colleges, but Wendling is yet to make a commitment.

Wherever he decides to go, Ford thinks that team is getting a player that is ready to play immediately.

“To colleges, (he’s) pretty small,” Ford said. “To me, I look at his film and I’m like, ‘Well, you like his tape.’ The kid can play. I don’t care if he’s 5-8, the kid can play football from the pocket, and I think whoever gets this kid is getting a steal. They’re getting a player that potentially could be a four-year starter for them.”

They would also be getting a leader, which has been perhaps even more important to Stadium’s rapid rise.

“I think one of the main things is his composure under pressure,” wide receiver Che Rogers said. “Even if we’re down or something like that, he might not feel it inside, but he’s always calm and composed on the outside. That does a lot to keep us focused and make sure we’re working on executing as an offense.”

Wendling tends to lead by example, but can be vocal when he needs to be.

“Hunter is not the guy that’s going to lead with the speech, but he’s also that guy that when something needs to be said, he’s going to say it,” Ford said. “When guys are not holding up to the expectation that we set here, he’s the one that’s going to get those guys fired up and going.

“He’s not going to be the guy that gets everybody in the middle and gets a chant going, but he’s always going to be the guy that has something to say when the team needs something said.”

Wendling’s knowledge of the game also helps in that regard. When he talks, his teammates know he knows what he’s talking about.

“Hunter is probably the smartest football IQ person that I’ve been around that’s not a coach,” senior wide receiver Tyler Oliver said. “He always understands the defense, understands the play and where the wide receivers are going to be and where the routes are going to be to get open, and he always puts the ball there.

“A lot of people may think that he’s too small, but I don’t think that really affects him because he always knows where the ball needs to go to make the right play.”

Wendling’s knowledge of the game also gets him a lot of freedom in the offense.

“A lot of the stuff we do offensively is going to be checked at the line,” Ford said. “So he does have a lot of freedom. Within our game plan, we normally have three plays in one. He’s definitely a guy that has 100 percent control and has the keys to the Jeep for sure. I have full confidence that he’s going to make the right calls, and when he doesn’t we get him coached up and he doesn’t make the same mistake twice.”

Making the playoffs for the first time in school history was a big part of the culture change the Stadium football program has experienced under Ford – and something Wendling and his teammates are very proud of.

“It does mean a lot,” Wendling said. “It’s been fun making history at this school. Coming in, this school wasn’t really known for winning anything, and then we made the playoffs last year and every one of our other primary sports made the playoffs, so that’s just fun to be a part of.”

And now that the Tigers have tasted the postseason, they want more. The goal for this year’s team is to get back to the playoffs and get further than last year’s team, which lost in the 3A district playoffs to Peninsula.

“I look at this team and really see them as the kind of group that can go as far as they want to,” Ford said. “We’ve never had this much talent in our skill positions, ever. We’ve really developed some of these guys.

“I think the sky is the limit for this group, and definitely Hunter is going to be a huge reason if we make it to the top.”