When friends or fellow coaches ask Tenino football coach Cary Nagel about what playing in the 1A Evergreen is like, he tells them it’s the 1A SEC, a nod to the NCAA’s perennial top Division-I …
When friends or fellow coaches ask Tenino football coach Cary Nagel about what playing in the 1A Evergreen is like, he tells them it’s the 1A SEC, a nod to the NCAA’s perennial top Division-I conference in the country.
And if the 1A Evergreen is the SEC, then Montesano is Alabama.
Coach Terry Jensen’s Bulldogs are coming off a 12-1 season, only blemished by a state quarterfinal loss to Deer Park. They are led by co-Evergreen League MVP and starting quarterback Trace Ridgeway, who threw for 1989 pass yards and 28 touchdowns with a 70 percent completion rate. Ridgeway, now a senior, was equally as efficient on the ground, rushing for 1,221 rush yards and 16 touchdowns.
Tenino will have some work to do but, luckily, the Beavers are primed for a turnaround season after going 3-7 overall and 0-4 in league play last year; dead last in the 1A EvCo. The Beavers return eight starters on both sides of the ball after getting a ton of underclassmen some vital starting experience.
“We played a lot of young guys and we’ve got some guys who have quite a bit experience playing up since they were freshmen,” Nagel said. “It should be a more physical team, that’s for sure, and, obviously, the experience helps quite a bit.”
The most notable returner is star junior defensive end and tight end Takari Hickle, who received a scholarship offer from Division-I University of Nevada over the summer. Hickle, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound beast, enjoys terrorizing opposing offenses. He’s a two-time first-team all-league selection and is rated a 3-star prospect by 247Sports. One of the team captains, Hickle is the 27th ranked prospect in the entire state and the 62nd ranked strongside defensive end in the nation.
“Really hard worker who doesn’t miss a day in the weight room, super physical, super athletic, super explosive,” Nagel said. “He plays at a high level and the recruiting process is kind of reflecting that. He’s on everybody’s radar.”
Another key returner is senior lineman Robert Marti, who has offers from Pacific Lutheran University and Pacific University. Marti, another weight room monster who’s also a team captain, was a first-team all-league pick at offensive line last season.
“I don’t think I can remember a day he’s ever missed the weight room,” Nagel said. “He’s tough, he’s explosive, he plays really hard at whatever position he’s at, but he’s a great o-line and d-lineman for us. Robbie’s the kind of guy that he’ll do anything you ask him to do and you’ll never hear a complaint out of him.”
Also back is sophomore quarterback Kysen Knox, who also starts at linebacker. Knox, who is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, got some starting reps last year when Aiden Wright was injured.
“Kysen is a very, very legitimate quarterback threat in this league,” Nagel said. “He kind of carries that quarterback swagger with him but he’s a tough kid. He does the things we ask him to do and I think he’s going to produce at a high level for us at quarterback and linebacker.”
Some other key pieces coming back are seniors William Tenehill (wide receiver) and Anthony Levi (line), along with junior running backs Shawn Nicholson and Gavin Watson, and sophomore running back Dylan Spicer, all of which were all-league honorable mentions at their respective positions.
“Spicer is going to be pretty solid,” Nagel said. “Nicholson has taken the reins and done as much as he possibly could. I expect him to do some things in the league this year. He’s a very tough runner.”
The offense will be somewhat similar to last year, a multiple-set attack based on taking advantage of whatever the opposing defense gives them. With three all-league ball carriers back, Nagel plans to focus a bit more on running the ball. Freshman Lucas Watterson will also see some reps at tailback.
On the defensive side, same thing, take what the offense gives them, Nagels said. It’ll be multiple defensive sets with a focus on upping their level of physicality, which is one of the team’s mottos. Crucial contributors should be junior linebacker Abe Nelson and sophomore linebacker Brian Budsberg, who were both all-league honorable mention selections.
“Up front we’re going to be pretty solid,” Nagel said. “We’ve got quite a few guys that return. Our back end looks to be pretty formidable as well. Those guys got a lot of experience. Every time I see them, they’ve put on five pounds.”
Looking at the rest of the conference, Hoquiam was also a state participant last year along with Montesano, earning the No. 12 seed in the state playoffs after placing second in the 1A EvCo. The Grizzlies, who won the league title in 2018, finished last season 7-4 overall and 3-1 in league play and bring back first-team all-league quarterback Dane McMillan.
Elma finished third last season with a 5-5 overall and 2-2 league record. The Eagles’ biggest returner are senior defensive linemen Caleb Knutson and Noah Huttula, both all-league honorable mention selections.
Forks, which finished fourth with a 4-5 overall and 1-3 league record, dropped down to Class 2B and has joined the Central 2B League’s North Division. Eatonville has dropped down to 1A from 2A and is joining the 1A Evergreen to take Forks’ place.
The Cruisers took second in the 2A South Puget Sound Conference last season, going 6-5 overall. They’re led by do-it-all senior athlete Caden Jumper, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound University of Washington commit who’s been destroying defenses since he won the league’s Offensive Player of the Year honors as a freshman.
The 3-star recruit filled in wherever needed last season, throwing for 992 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also tallied 115 carries for 1,117 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with nine receptions for 115 yards and three touchdowns.
Adding a team like Eatonville ensures that the 1A Evergreen will again be one of the most competitive 1A conferences in the state, Nagel said.
“It’s pretty tough,” Nagel said. “All the teams are well-coached and they do a really good job across the league. It is definitely a league to rival other leagues in the state. I’m expecting us to make a step forward, for sure. Being in this league, you have to have all your ducks in a row.”
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