Joey Strange and George Wilson

“I’m pumped! We have got a good team,” says senior quarterback Joey Strange during a break at practice. He is pictured, left, with enthusiastic Naselle center George Wilson. The pair will be in action as the campaign begins on the road Sept. 4. In the last full season of football before the covid restrictions, the Comets advanced to the 1B state championship game.

NASELLE — George Wilson epitomizes the Comet fighting spirit.

The 234-pound center has been honing his snap, determined to make sure quarterback and fellow senior Joey Strange receives the ball smoothly on every play.

But once he has released the ball, Wilson’s job on the offensive line isn’t over. A beefy opposition nose guard poised to clobber Strange has to be blocked — and that means moving with speed and resolve.

“The coaches have been teaching me to snap it and then move my foot,” said Wilson, demonstrating the move. “I want to beat him every time.” He is determined. “I don’t want him to get one tackle in any game.”

Wilson and teammates begin their 2021 fall season Sept. 4 with a trip to Stewart Field in Aberdeen to play Neah Bay. The game against the Red Devils begins a full schedule of contests to put the traditional three-season WIAA calendar back on track after the covid disruption.

Last year, state shutdown regulations postponed fall football to a shorted season this past February and March. Naselle went 6-0 as district champions in the final year for retiring head coach Jeff Eaton, named Pacific League Coach of the Year.

Wilson and Strange were named to the all-league first team, but no one was truly happy, in part because there were no playoffs. “It was a tough way for the seniors to finish,” said Strange, whose talented brother Jimmy Strange, a running back voted the league’s most valuable player, graduated in June.

As the first game looms, Wilson cannot hide his enthusiasm. “I’m pretty excited about football,” he beamed. “But I am sad because it’s going to be my last year.”

New Naselle Head Coach Kevin McNulty

New Naselle Head Coach Kevin McNulty, right, puts his players through a blocking drill with his new assistant Jeff Eaton looking on. McNulty, former Ilwaco coach, took the Comets’ top job when Eaton retired this spring — then immediately asked Eaton to assist him.

New veteran coach

The fall 2021 Naselle team will be coached by Kevin McNulty, who is happy to be back at his alma mater. Eaton, his childhood next-door neighbor and best man at his wedding, retired in March after 30 years coaching the Comets. That retirement lasted 168 days as McNulty has asked him to assist.

Others helping are Eaton’s recent assistant Pete Riley, McNulty’s former Ilwaco colleague Gene Ford, his son Sean McNulty and Naselle graduate Ryley Queener, a former Comet football standout known for his weightlifting prowess.

McNulty has been coaching for almost three decades, with two stints at Ilwaco and experience at Sequim and White River, where Sean played before pulling on a Central Washington University football uniform. In later years, the father-son combination coached football and wrestling together in Las Vegas.

“We are getting there,” said Kevin McNulty, squinting at drills in the early evening sunshine. “We have got a good nucleus — some experience and some younger ones.”

Seniors bring maturity

The seven seniors on the roster include running back Jason Harman, who is the other returning all-league standout. Three “new” faces have coaches excited. They are Riley Thorsen, who has football experience, on the offensive line, and two new wide receivers, Craig Reitz, who has returned to Naselle where he had attended middle school, and Trent Stephens, a Comet track stalwart.

Stephens anchored Naselle’s District 4 team championship victory earlier this year, winning all four of his events — 200 meters (24.46), high jump, long jump and triple jump.

“These three additions from the senior class will add to the maturity and they all bring athletic ability,” McNulty said.

Juniors include three-sport athlete Kolten Lindstrom, who suffered a leg injury in the first game of the spring football season but recovered to play baseball, and returning players Elmer Toftemark and Luke Johnson. “I’m glad it’s getting back to normal,” Johnson said. “I am really excited.”

On defense, a roster of 19 means most offensive stars will be doubling up. Coaches look to Strange, Lindstrom and Harman to be among those harassing opponents.

Assistant coach Sean McNulty

Assistant coach Sean McNulty fires a pass to new wide receiver Trent Stephens during Naselle football practice. Stephens who is 6-3 tall, demonstrated his speed and strength during track season and coaches are hoping he and teammates will pack a powerful offensive punch as football season begins.

Season prospects

Naselle moved to 8-man football in 2015, where eastern Washington teams Odessa and Almira Coulee Hartline have dominated in recent years. The Comets, led by versatile athlete Ethan Lindstrom, lost the championship game to Odessa in 2019 and were defeated in the semifinal by ACH in 2018.

The Tigers are two-time defending 1B champions and Andy Buhler, writing on ScorebookLive.com, ranks them No. 1, placing ACH in second. Like Naselle, both teams went undefeated in their covid-curtailed spring seasons.

This fall, Buhler ranks Naselle at sixth, with Quilcene, Liberty Christian and Lummi ahead of the Comets. NHS will play Lummi at Chief Leschi School on Sept. 10. Neah Bay, the Comets’ first opponent, is Buhler’s eighth-place pick.

Family connections

Sean McNulty, who is demonstrating his skills as a receiver to the Comets, teaches virtually to schools in China, giving him a chance to coach again with his father.

“I am excited to see the program keep building. It’s a good program,” he said.

Other family connections continue, too.

While Jayden Ding is the only sophomore on the roster, coaches may give some playing time to five freshmen. At least two have familiar names: Jack Strange and Jacob Lindstrom.

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