TOUCHET — Elias Martinez has been Touchet High’s starting quarterback for the better part of three seasons.
But for Martinez’s eight fellow seniors on this year’s Indians football roster, 2013 has been their first real opportunity to shine. And shine they have.
They will take a 12-1 season record onto the artificial turf beneath the concrete roof of the Tacoma Dome Friday afternoon, determined to return home with the school’s fifth Class 1B 8-man state championship trophy and its first since 1999. No. 1-ranked and undefeated Neah Bay (11-0) is all that stands in their way.
Gary Dorman, Touchet’s head coach who finds himself in the state spotlight for the first time since replacing Wayne Dickey in 2009, calls this year’s senior contingent “the most enjoyable group of kids” he has had the privilege of working with in his 33 years at this small farming community school.
“They are fun loving,” Dorman says. “They enjoy each other’s company.
“But at the same time,” he adds, “they have brought a very strong dedication to football. They have done a great job in the weight room and in our summer program, not only as seniors but all the way through. They have been real steady participants.”
With the exception of Zach Carson, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound offensive and defensive end, these seniors have played football as a group since middle school. Carson’s primary focus has always been basketball, but he decided to turn out for football for the first time as a senior.
“He’s a good athlete with good size who comes in and spells our starting ends,” Dorman says of Carson. “He knows his job, does it and never tries to do more than he is capable of, because he knows he is new to the game.
“I just wish he had been here for the other three years. He would have been one of those players who would be hard to keep off the field.”
Carson is primarily a blocker, Dorman notes, but in last week’s 62-36 victory over Rosalia, he made a key 13-yard catch that kept an important Indians scoring drive alive in the fourth quarter.
The Indians’ starting ends on offense are seniors Connor McKeown (5-11, 150) and Ruben Butler (6-2, 175). This is their first year in the starting offensive lineup, and Butler also starts at linebacker after starting several games at defensive end as a junior.
“Connor is one of the hardest working kids on the team,” Dorman says of McKeown. “And offensively he has improved leaps and bounds. He’s never bigger than the person he’s blocking, but he has good technique and does a good job, which is very important since we like to run the ball.”
Butler has emerged as the Indians’ leading receiver this season with 211 on 15 catches, three of them for touchdowns. But his contributions on the other side of the ball are equally important if not more so.
“He’s the toughest kid on the team,” Dorman says of Butler. “Pound-for-pound, he hits harder than anyone in our league, and he has a lot of respect from other coaches and other players through his attitude towards football. He love it, and it shows.”
Ivan Hernandez (5-9, 215) and Casey Sewell (5-9, 210) are a pair of impact seniors on the Indians’ offensive line. Sewell is also a backup on the defensive line.
“Ivan is one of those guys who has lived in the weight room,” Dorman says of Hernandez, who got a chance to start at center as a junior when Nate Ortiz was injured early in the season. When Ortiz returned, Hernandez moved over to a guard position, but he has held down the center position since Day 1 this fall.
“Ninety-five percent of our center snaps are in the shotgun formation, and Ivan hasn’t had a bad snap all year,” Dorman says. “He knows and understands the importance of his position, and he works at it constantly.”
Sewell missed about five weeks last season after suffering a concussion, otherwise he might have earned a starting position as a junior, Dorman believes.
“He is one of those kids who has embraced his role as an offensive lineman,” Dorman says. “It takes a special psyche to get pounded on every play and then go looking for someone to hit, but he has worked at being the best that he can be. And he’s probably the strongest kid on the team.”
Edgar Rincon (5-8, 160), Colton Goble (5-6, 150) and Cesar Velasquez (5-6, 150) are a trio of mighty mite running backs who line up behind that stout offensive line, pick their holes and dart through. Rincon leads the team with 754 yards rushing, Goble has gained 618 and Velasquez has accrued 598.
Rincon and Goble are two-way starters, with Rincon starting in the defensive secondary and Goble at defensive tackle. Velasquez and junior Colter McKeown are what Dorman calls “our second wave runnings backs,” and Velasquez is also a starting defensive end.
“Edgar also started on defense as a junior,” Dorman says, “but we didn’t know where to put him on offense. He’s not a big physical kid who could play the offensive line. But he has great wheels, so we decided to try him at running back. We knew what his abilities were, but I’m not sure we imagined they were going to be this good.
“He’s kind of a slasher. He won’t run over many people, but he has great acceleration. He’s a Ferrari, not a Dodge truck.”
Defensively, Rincon “is a sure tackler who reads the sweep and the option better than anyone on our team,” Dorman says. “He has great closing speed and good technique.”
Goble has been a varsity player since his sophomore year when he started several games on the defensive line. He was a defensive regular as a junior, but this fall has been his first opportunity to show what he can do on the other side of the ball.
“He’s our Energizer Bunny that never shuts off,” Dorman says of Goble. “He just has a motor that coaches die to have their kids have. And he’s just as intense in practice as he is in games.
“His work ethic is unmatched,” Dorman adds. “And he goes up against guys who are 120, 130 pounds heavier than he is. He won’t win every battle, but by the end of the game he has won the war.”
Velasquez, as a junior, saw minimal playing time as a running back and in the defensive backfield, and he was also the backup kicker. As a senior he fills all three roles and is the most improved player on the Indians roster, according to his coach.
“The thing about Cesar that makes him so effective is that he is the quickest kid as far as hitting the line of scrimmage,” Dorman says of Velasquez’s running back skills. “He is there in a flash, low to the ground and running hard. The only time his feet stop churning is when he hits the air.
“Defensively, he is the biggest impact player we have. We had to find a place for him to play, and from defensive end, with his speed and his tenacity, he has the ability to get to the quarterback and stuff the run.”
And then there is Martinez, who as a sophomore won out in a battle with junior Octavio Preciado for the Indians’ starting quarterback position and has started every game at QB since. And this year, for the first time, he also starts in the defensive secondary.
“As a freshman he was our backup quarterback behind senior Jake Hodnefield,” Dorman recalls. “Then as a sophomore, he and Octavio split duties during our preseason games.
“Elias wasn’t the runner that Octavio was, but he was a little better passer. And he understood the game just a little bit better.”
Martinez led the Indians into the state quarterfinals during his sophomore and junior seasons, only to suffer disappointing defeats. Now he has his team in the state finals as a senior, and he was never better than he was in Saturday night’s semifinal game in Pasco.
Trailing Rosalia 30-6 late in the second quarter, Martinez engineered a comeback for the ages by running for one touchdown and passing for five others as the Indians prevailed 62-36.
“He is the heart and soul of our team on offense,” Dorman says of Martinez. “His decision making has gotten so much better over the course of three years, and this year he has taken on a leadership role as our quarterback.”
Martinez enters Friday’s game as a dual offensive threat. He has rushed for 707 yards and 16 touchdowns and passed for 743 yards and 23 scores.
“He could have started on defense last year as well, but we had pretty good talent back there and we were trying to protect our quarterback,” Dorman says. “This year, in my opinion, he is the best at coming up on the run and in covering the pass of anyone in the entire state.”
Best of all, Dorman believes, his nine seniors embody the proper attitude going into the final game of their high school football careers.
“They understand the seriousness of the game,” Dorman says. “But they also understand that it is a game. We always emphasise that nobody is going to make a living from doing this, so enjoy it. And they all enjoy being out there.
“They all enjoy the camaraderie that football brings to these guys.”