Following a successful 2021 season for the Yelm Tornados, which saw them go 10-1, the team has created quite the buzz entering the upcoming season.
With practices beginning on Wednesday, Aug. 17, the road to Week 1 is officially underway.
Yelm is set to host the 4A Camas Papermakers on Friday, Sept. 2 in their first game of the year. Each school in the Week 1 matchup won their respective league. Yelm cruised through the South Sound Conference with a perfect 6-0 record, while Camas bounced back from their shaky 0-4 start to finish the season 8-5 with a 3-0 record in league. Each team was able to rack up impressive win streaks during the season with Yelm winning 10 in a row, and Camas winning eight in a row.
Yelm’s head coach Jason Ronquillo never backs away from a challenge. For the past several years, Ronquillo and the Tornados have scheduled some of the toughest teams in the state in non-conference play, including Lincoln, Mount Si, Tumwater, Skyview (Vancouver) and Eatonville, among others.
“We chose (to play) Camas because we know what kind of challenge we’re getting: A team that won a state title three years ago and were in the quarters last year. (They have) great players, a great staff, and an established program,” Ronquillo said. “Iron sharpens iron and there’s no other way we want it.”
Following their matchup with Camas, the Tornados will turn their attention to the Union Titans in Vancouver, who are also members on the Greater St. Helens League (GSHL). The Titans finished with a 6-3 record in the regular season but did not make the playoffs.
Following their non-conference games against GSHL teams, the Tornados will dive into South Sound Conference action with a home matchup against Central Kitsap, before hitting the road the following week against River Ridge. The Tornados then have three consecutive home games as they are set to host North Thurston, Capital and Timberline.
The Tornados will conclude their regular season with two consecutive games traveling to Roy Anderson field in Gig Harbor, where they will face Peninsula before wrapping the season up against Gig Harbor.
The Tornados offense returns a good amount of starters from the previous season. The returners include wide receiver and Portland State commit Kyler Ronquillo, wide receiver Aden Schaler, running back Brayden Platt, fullback Ray Wright, left tackle Landen Barger, and center Kolby Henry. Senior offensive linemen William Snodgrass and Kyle Kaaiwela had appearances on the line for Yelm last year and are expected to play at both guard positions for the Tornados.
Junior quarterback Damian Aalona is expected to take the reins for Yelm at the position in replacement of Palaina Hooper, who graduated.
Much like their offense, the Tornados’ defense returns a vast majority of their dominant 2021 core. William Carreto, Platt and Wright are set to return to their linebacker positions in the fall. With the addition of junior linebacker Isaiah Patterson, Yelm’s linebacking core has been considered to be the best in the state by several Washington high school football media members.
Barger and junior Onyx Carter are both expected to return to Yelm’s defensive line for the upcoming season as well. Barger finished his summer training by posting some good weight room numbers, which included a 525-pound back-squat, a 585-pound deadlift, and a 340-pound bench.
In the defensive backfield, returners include Ronquillo, Shaler, senior Pavaan Bankston, and Marius Aalona.
Coach Ronquillo also named the team’s captains for the season after their first practice of the fall season.
“Kyler Ronquillo is a great leader that has the ability to draw people to him. The details work and how he helps the younger guys learn is a huge part of his personality. He plays with an incredible amount of juice and passion. It’s hard not to be attracted to his play,” Coach Ronquillo said. “Ray Wright is a prime player that leads by example. No question he is our alpha dog on defense. He plays with a speed that our other players need to replicate and follow.”
Wright and Ronquillo are each entering their final season on the team. Both athletes have served as four year starters for the Tornados.
Coach Ronquillo continued with, “Landen Barger (is a) great vocal leader. He actually has the ‘want to’ lead mentality. He leads at every opportunity he gets, and plays with a nastiness that coaches love,” Ronquillo said before turning his focus to the final captain. “Brayden Platt leads both vocally and physically. Players gravitate toward him because of his positivity and the way he carries himself on and off the field.”
With a talented roster and high expectations from media organizations, Ronquillo wants the Tornados to remember to take each game and each task one at a time.
“We try to not look toward the end of the tunnel and focus on what’s in front of us,” Ronquillo said. “If we are driving in a car we only look as far as our headlights shine. If we look beyond the headlights and focus on the end of the road that’s when accidents and bad things can occur.”