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Terry Rose is in his second year coaching football at Capital High School. He doesn’t feel like a beginner.
“Our staff is more comfortable, our kids are more comfortable with what we’re trying to do,” he said.
Yet 23 seniors graduated last spring, including the long-time stellar passing combo of quarterback Grant Erickson to Chris Penner. Both are now playing college basketball, Erickson at the University of Puget Sound, Penner at Seattle Pacific University.
“Grant and Chris did a phenomenal job of being great leaders last year. They made the transition for me and my staff a lot easier,” Rose said. “This is a totally different group of players. These guys lack experience, but the amount of effort they’ve put into what we’re trying to do be successful is unreal.”
Cougar players have noticed an increase in camaraderie and desire.
“It feels like everyone cares about each other on this team, no one feels excluded. Last year it didn’t seem like everyone wanted to show up, but this year everyone wants to be here,” said senior running back Clayton Grady.
“The buy-in’s been incredible,” Rose agreed. “We had a lot of buy-in last year, but there was a lot of unknown. This year everybody understands what we’re about and what we’re trying to do.”
Rose installed an offense not many current high school kids, born after the turn of the century, are familiar with: a power option system based on Nebraska’s old triple option.
“At first last year I was overwhelmed. The passing routes were so confusing. They’re were a lot of numbers being thrown at me,” Grady remembered. “But, after a year, it makes sense now. Coach Rose absolutely knows what he’s doing.”
Carter Carlson is new to the team, a transfer from Olympia, but says he understood the offense before too long.
“I’ve picked it up pretty quickly, there are just a lot of numbers. It’s complex to people outside of the system, but once you learn it you can have it down,” he said.
Capital may miss Erickson’s size and experience at quarterback, but it has a pair of replacements Rose believes will do just fine.
Senior Tristan Redman, 5 feet, 9 inches to Erickson’s 6-6, is expected to start with junior backup Eli Hoffman, slightly taller at 5-11, also expected to see the field.
“They’re two totally different quarterbacks,” Rose said. “We’ll have packages for both of them. Eli’s bigger, he’s a little bit more of a runner, but he’s got a cannon arm. Tristan’s a little more shifty, a little more talkative, more of a presence in the pocket.”
Rose expects the running ability of the 6-1, 200-pound Grady to be key as well.
“Clayton has speed to get off the edge, but he’s also strong enough to go up the middle,” he said. “He’s a natural running back. He’s strong, he’s got good feet. He likes to run the ball and he has a lot of fun with it. When he touches the ball you’re waiting for something big to happen.”
Defense may be a bigger challenge than offense at the outset of the season.
“We have to replace a lot of experienced talent on defense,” Rose said. “We’ve got a lot of kids who’ve never played at Capital before. There will be a lot more teaching. We’ll be a little bit more vanilla in our first few games.”
Grady, who cites Redman and senior receiver Grady Lindekugel as the strongest leaders among his own senior class, admits its tough to set the tone after following such a large group of older players for years.
“We all as seniors take on leadership roles. It’s kind of difficult, none of us had to be a leader through our previous three years,” he said.
Rose credits Carter Carlson, a 6-1, 230-pound tight end, for his own leadership role, though Carlson arrived at the semester break last winter and has yet to play a game for the Cougars.
“Carter’s immediately jumped into a leadership role,” Rose said. “He’s a hard worker. Very food football player, who brings a lot of athletic ability to his position.”
“You have to prove yourself to the other guys and prove you can play,” Carlson, who has an offer from Simon Fraser University but is keeping his options open, said. “I came over here and they were super accepting of me and I was grateful for that. I’m not trying to force myself into any role, I just want to be here for the team.”
Rose sees his squad’s team-first approach as central to its future level of success.
“We’re undersized, but we’ve got a lot of fight. With our offense we don’t need size, we need toughness,” he said. “Our guys have a hardnose attitude. Last year was more white collar, this year is more blue collar.”
Grady knows a positive attitude will have to be fused with execution to lift the Cougars past 3A South Sound Conference powers like Peninsula, Timberline and Yelm.
“We’re not even close to where we want to be. We’re still kind of a young team. We’ve got a lot of growing to do,” he said.