In years past, even the massive 6-foot-4, 240 pound Takari Hickle would get some jitters when the Tenino High School football team played a tough opponent in league.
After a few struggling years, things have changed for Tenino after they ended their spring season with two wins in their last three games and found a rhythm in the offseason.
“I know we can compete this year,” Hickle said. “I’m actually pretty excited because I love competition. They aren’t really an intimidating thing like they have been in the past. We definitely got some good teams and good players out there, but we’re good too.”
Playing in a loaded 1A Evergreen league, which now features No. 2 Eatonville, which dropped down from the 2A classification, every game will be a dog fight. Along with the highly ranked Eatonville, Montesano was ranked eighth in the preseason AP Washington high school football poll.
“I believe the 1A Evergreen Conference is one of the most well-coached conferences in the entire state,” Tenino head coach Cary Nagel said. “The coaches always have their teams extremely well-prepared, the athletes are always extremely well-prepared in the weight room, they do a good job mentally. Being at the 1A level, they really rally around being a small town and playing for each other.”
But despite the added competition on top of an already tough league, Tenino is entering this season with more confidence than in recent years, in part due to nine returning starters on both its offense and defense.
“This year is different. We have a better team, we’ve got a new offense going, our defense is really, really good,” Hickle said. “I’m really fired up about it.”
Back is Hickle, the mammoth Oregon State commit who will again be prominently featured on both offense and defense for Tenino this season. But alongside Hickle, Tenino will also see major production from tailback/linebacker Dylan Spicer, who has big play ability, and Randall Marti at middle linebacker.
The brother of all-league player Robert Marti, Randall will look to follow in his brother’s footsteps and anchor a solid Tenino defense this fall.
But a strong end to last season, and a very competitive offseason, has Tenino right where they want to be. They hope it can lead to an even more competitive 2021 season.
“We haven’t had a playoff team in quite a bit, so the boys want a berth in the playoffs,” Nagel said. “To do that we have to play sound football across the board. The coaches have to do a great job of preparing the kids and the kids have to do a great job of being prepared. That’s one of the goals, to get over that hump. We want to be physical, every football game.”