TOUCHET — There was no shortage of skill players in attendance when Touchet High football coach Gary Dorman called his first football practice back in August.
With the exception of receiver Eric Hines, who had graduated the previous spring, the Indians returned all of their runners and passers and catchers from a team that logged an 8-3 record and reached the Class 1B state quarterfinals in 2011.
The big job Dorman and his assistant coaches faced was rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines. Starting offensive guards Matt Shutt and Dan Can had graduated. And three-quarters of the defensive front four — Shutt at tackle and Can and Ty Garbe at the end positions — had to be replaced as well.
“We actually had two kids who had played on our offensive line during the course of last season,” Dorman said. “Nate Ortiz and Ivan Hernandez gave us a place to start.”
Ortiz, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound senior, was expected to be the Indians’ starting center his junior year. But he was injured in practice prior to the season opener and Hernandez (5-8, 185) was thrown into the fire at center as a green-as-grass sophomore.
“Ivan took over and played at least half of the season for us,” Dorman remembered. “And when Nate came back, he moved in at center and Ivan saw spot duty after that.”
Dorman’s first offensive line decision was to reinsert Hernandez as his starting center and move Ortiz to one of the guard positions.
“Nate is our fastest lineman,” Dorman explained. “And since we like to pull our guards on some of our plays, it made sense to put our fastest kid in that position.”
But what about the other guard slot?
“Jose Martinez, one of our featured running backs, played on the offensive line as a sophomore,” the coach said of his 200-pound senior power back. “We thought that in a worst-case scenario, he could move into the line. Other than that, we had a lot of unknowns for that third line position.”
As it turned out, Martinez remained in the backfield and has played an important role running the football during the team’s 9-1 season and return trip to the state quarterfinals. Touchet will face Cusick Friday night at 7 at Gonzaga Prep in Spokane.
“We had three kids who started to shine during our first week of padded practices,” Dorman said. “We were pretty secure that we had kids who could fill those (offensive line) roles and Jose was just too valuable to take out of the backfield.”
Tim Weber, a 6-1, 250-pound sophomore, was the player who stepped up and claimed the other offensive guard slot.
“Tim is figuring things out as he goes and is doing a great job,” Dorman said of Weber, who is the nephew of Indians assistant coach Leland Weber.
“Tim is one of those kids who likes to finish things,” Dorman added. “In last week’s game (a 76-36 playoff win over Wellpinit) he blocked a kid 10-to-15 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage. You do that, or knock a defender on his back, that’s a pancake block, and we reward kids for pancake blocks with a colored sticker on our goals chart.
“Tim doesn’t play defense, so he’s figured out that this is one of his opportunities to get some stickers. He probably got two of them against Wellpinit and maybe six or seven total, and they are pretty hard to get.”
Touchet’s offensive end positions are manned by seniors Cori Ochoa, a returning starter, and Vicente Flores, whose move from slot back to end opened up a starting role for senior Octavio Preciado in the Indians backfield.
Ochoa hasn’t quite duplicated Hines’ contributions as a pass-catcher, but his blocking skills are certainly comparable.
“Cori is one of our best blocker and has been for the last three years,” Dorman said of Ochoa. “He takes that part of the game pretty seriously.
“We know he can catch the ball, and he has made some really good catches. But in 8-man football the ends are really the tackles. If you want to have any kind of outside running game, the ends have to be adept at picking off defenders and not letting them cover to the outside.
“Cori is a real smart player. He knows that downfield blocking is really important, and he loves those blindside blocks.”
Restocking the defensive line became a little more complicated.
The Indians began the season with Jose Martinez and junior Colton Goble at the tackle positions, flanked by Ortiz and senior Lyle Dowsett at the end positions. Martinez was the only one of the four with any meaningful experience as a defensive player.
So when junior transfer Brock Lane became eligible several games into the season, the Touchet coaches decided to switch from a 4-2 defensive front to a three-man line.
“We knew all along that Brock was going to be a good inside linebacker type,” Dorman said of Lane. “And since we had a bunch of kids who were linebacker size and not very big linemen, we decided to make the switch.”
Jose Martinez moved from tackle to nose guard and Dowsett and Ortiz remained at the end positions. Lane was inserted at middle linebacker, flanked by Ochoa and Preciado.
“Most teams we play are running teams, and Jose does such a good job at middle linebacker they have to double-team him,” Dorman explained. “And that allows our middle linebacker to be pretty much unblocked and flow to the ball.”
Lane, who is 171 pounds, has helped the Indians maintain a more physical presence on defense.
“He’s a good-sized kid who is really pretty physical,” Dorman said of Lane. “And he has played a little football, so it didn’t require a lot of reteaching.”
However, Lane did have to make the adjustment from 11-man football to the 8-man game, Dorman said.
“He played 11-man where he came from in California,” the coach said. “He had to adjust to the speed of the 8-man game, where you are the guy who has to make the tackle or hold on until someone can come and help. The 11-man game is not quite that wide open.”
The Indians might have to do a lot of holding on Friday night against undefeated Cusick, which brings an 11-0 record and a No. 3 state-ranking into the quarterfinal game.
“They are a team that is built on speed and misdirection and deception,” Dorman said of the Panthers. “They have two brothers who are very fast and very good football players.
“We are going to have to tackle better than we did last week against Wellpinit, that’s for sure.”
The Panthers defeated Wellpinit 92-16 during a regular-season game Sept. 28 in Cusick. They also defeated Odessa-Harrington 48-14 Sept. 7 in Odessa.
The Indians defeated Odessa-Harrington 60-42 the following weekend in Touchet. The Indians also defeated Cusick 28-20 last November in a first-round playoff game in Touchet.