TOUCHET — Gary Dorman seems to remember a time during his 32 previous years as a Touchet High football coach when the Indians lost nine players to graduation.
But never a group as talented as the nine players he will have to replace when he calls his first practice next August.
“I don’t believe we have ever had nine seniors who played such intricate roles on offense and defense as we did this year,” said Dorman, who completed his fifth season as the school’s head football coach last weekend in Tacoma after 28 years as an Indians assistant coach.
“While we have a lot of quality kids waiting in the wings, I’ve never seen a group of seniors like this year’s group,” Dorman said. “From Zach Carson, who turned out this year for the first time, right on up, I don’t remember this many quality players in one class who have played as much as these guys have.”
This year’s team claimed a share of the Southeast 1B District championship and followed up with three playoff victories before losing to Neah Bay 36-18 last Friday in the Gridiron Classic state championship game in the Tacoma Dome. The Indians finished 12-2, losing only to the state champion Red Devils and defending state champion Liberty Christian early in the season in Richland.
Six of Touchet’s nine seniors earned all-league honors.
Colton Goble at running back and defensive back and Ruben Butler at end and linebacker were two-way selections. Casey Sewell and Ivan Hernandez were named to the team as offensive linemen, Cesar Velasquez as the kicker/punter and Elias Martinez at defensive back.
Edgar Rincon was a two-way starter for the Indians as a senior and led the team in rushing, Connor McKeown started at an end position on offense and Carson was a backup offensive and defensive end in his first year of football.
“For a lot of these guys, this year was their first chance to play,” Dorman said. “They had been waiting and waiting and waiting, and for them to have such a good year as their only year, I am pretty darned proud of them.”
But there is no looking back, and Dorman had already turned his attention to next year’s team as the Indians made their long, melancholy trek back over the mountains late Friday night.
“I don’t know if it’s the nature of the beast or not, but on the bus ride home I was already drawing up different alignments with different kids,” the coach said.
And while graduation losses will be steep, it’s not as though Dorman will have to work magic to come up with a competitive team in 2014.
In Tim Weber, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound junior, Dorman has an anchor for his offensive line. Weber has been a starter since his sophomore year and will be one of the team leaders as a senior.
“He’s the guy who will be making the line calls, making sure everyone knows what’s going on,” Dorman said of his veteran guard. “He’s not real vocal, but he is emotional. He’s the type of kid who will show up ready to go at the first practice and who will make sure other kids are at the field on days of practice during the summer.”
Jorge Garcia (5-10, 200) started on the defensive line as a junior and will be one of Dorman’s building blocks on that side of the ball. Like Weber on offense, Garcia won’t be asked to go both ways, Dorman said.
“They could start both ways but probably won’t,” Dorman said. “We want to maintain the idea of subbing kids in and out. We have more than eight kids who can play the game, and this is one way to build depth and reduce injuries at the same time.”
A third junior, Colter McKeown (5-11, 175), started at linebacker and was a key offensive reserve at running back this season. And he will be expected to start both ways as a senior.
“Colter has been playing at the varsity level since he was a freshman and really became a force for us on defense as a sophomore,” Dorman said of McKeown. “This year he was our most consistent player on defense and led us in tackles with about 16 a game and in pass interceptions with six.”
McKeown was also an offensive force, especially in the four postseason games when he rushed 21 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns and caught three passes for 75 yards and two scores. He also returned a pass interception 45 yards for a TD.
“We might have under utilized him on offense,” Dorman said. “But he worked so hard on defense, making all those tackles and in pass coverage. We were just trying to maintain him because he was so important to our defense.
“We will probably throw that idea out next year because I think he is going to emerge as one of the better backs in our league and hopefully the state.”
Sophomores Carlos Rincon (6-2, 170) and Mikael Butler (6-0, 160) also started on defense this year. And Rincon became an important offensive cog late in the season and throughout Touchet’s postseason run.
Rincon was the Indians’ leading receiver during the playoffs with eight catches for 178 yards and four touchdowns. He also returned a pass interception 85 yards for a TD from his defensive back position, and as the team’s backup quarterback he is line to take over that position as a junior.
“He’s going to have to throw the ball real high and run real fast to throw the ball to himself,” Dorman said. “But he will be our quarterback unless something changes drastically.
“Carlos faces a real steep learning curve because he didn’t get many chances to play quarterback this year. But we are going to give him every opportunity to succeed and base things where there’s pressure that if he doesn’t have a good game it won’t dictate the outcome of the game.”
Mikael Butler and his freshman brother Lot (6-0, 175) are of similar builds to their older brother Ruben, Dorman said, and both should be key contributors in 2014.
“They are kids you can plug in to a lot of different places,” the coach said.
Jackson Elsasser (5-11, 195) and Leo Garcia (5-6, 140) are two other sophomores who will be counted on to take on key roles as juniors. Elsasser was a backup on both lines and Garcia, who missed much of the season with a broken collarbone, played halfback and defensive back as a reserve once he returned to action.
“Jackson should be one of our starting offensive linemen,” Dorman said. “And Leo is one of those kids who just loves the contact. It doesn’t matter if runs inside or out because he also has speed. He will be a big factor for us.”
Others who are likely to figure into Dorman’s line plans are juniors Jared Ortiz (5-11, 210), JW Sharp (5-10, 180) and sophomore Sam Ogden (6-0, 150). Junior Riley Shanks (5-9, 140) hopes to make his mark as a defensive back his senior year along with sophomore Andrew Flagstead (5-10, 175), who is also in line as the Indians’ backup quarterback.
A pair of freshmen — James Kates (6-1, 220) and Titus Miller (5-10, 175) — are prospective running backs, and freshmen Jacob LaRogue (5-9, 160) and Josh Renkin (5-8, 170) are future Indians linemen.
“James broke his finger late in the season, but he runs low and out over his pads,” Dorman said of Kates. “He will make some people bounce. And because we have such a logjam at running back, Titus Miller may see more of his time at end because he is such a good blocker.”
Touchet’s eighth-grade class was “about nine deep,” this fall, Dorman said. And he anticipates at least six or seven will turn out as freshmen.
“There are a couple of really good looking linemen in that class, kids who are pretty good sized for eighth graders,” Dorman said. “I don’t see us dropping off too much in years to come.”