ILWACO - Gone are 13 seniors from last year and not one, but two head coaches. But a new coach, a new system and a new work regimen could lead to a new and improved Ilwaco Fishermen football team as Kevin McNulty returns for his second stint at the helm.
After building a successful program at Ilwaco in the 1990s, then at Sequim and most recently at White River High School, McNulty decided to bring his family back to the area where he grew up and put his energy into resurrecting the Fishermen football program.
"These guys are willing to work," McNulty said of his players. "We have been concentrating on fitness and on fundamentals. My only rule is to not let down your teammates."
Returning starter Nick Morrison said, "Practices are great, we're working hard and I'm having fun. We do different drills and are always moving."
McNulty is joined by assistants Les Nash, Nick Lyster and Nathan Plummer. Gene Ford will be a volunteer assistant coach and former NFL player John Didion is helping with the line in early workouts. In 2006 Ilwaco was a disappointing 1-9 with a sixth-place finish in the seven-team Trico League.
One of the returnees everyone will have an eye on (and likely a pair of opposing linebackers) is senior halfback Eddie Knick. All Knick has done his first three seasons is gain 3,600 yards, score 33 touchdowns - eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark all three years. He could become the first Washington ball-carrier to gain at least 1,000 yards each of his four seasons since Timberline's Jonathan Stewart - now a starter for the Oregon Ducks - did it in 2004.
Knick will not be the only veteran in the Fishermen backfield however, as quarterback Jake Nesbitt returns to throw to his favorite receiver of last year, Matt Kaino. The pair hooked up for 17 receptions, including three touchdowns and three 2-point conversions. Rey Sanchez will back up Nesbitt at QB, be a key running back and also line up as a receiver at times. Stephen Hilton, a transfer, will also see action as a running back and Justin Short will also be a QB understudy.
Joining Kaino in the receiving corps are Jordan DeSimone and Kolby Kirby. Scott Simmons will lineup as tight end. The offensive line will be anchored by Dan Beierle at center and Morrison at tackle, both returning starters. David Stull, Tyler Starks and Adam Bundy will be vying for playing time at the guard position according to McNulty, and Brandon Vitkoczy and Hayden Blake will be in the mix at tackle.
McNulty will use multiple one and two-back sets on offense. "We will use lots of formations and only a few plays," he explains.
Linebackers will likely be Morrison, Starks, Stull or Hilton. "The defensive backs will be the wide receivers and running backs," McNulty adds after seeing his team practice for only four days. "DeSimone has punted well and Kaino may be our place kicker and kick off specialist, but it's too early to know for sure."
Ilwaco will be competing for one of four state playoff berths, which means the Fishermen must finish in the top three slots in the Trico standings, positions perennial powerhouses Kalama, Castle Rock and LaCenter will also be gunning for. The Evergreen and Trico season champs earn state trips and the second and third place finishers will battle for the final two state invitations.
"The coach knows what he's doing," said Kaino. "I'm hopeful we can make the top three teams in our league."
Knick added, "Our coach is very knowledgeable and we never stop working. I'd rather go to the playoffs than gain 1,000 yards this year."
The Fishermen's first game is Friday, Aug. 31 at Wahkiakum and play their home opener Sept. 7 against Valley.
Look for the Fishermen's record to improve, but even their non-league 2B foes, Wahkiakum and Valley, and 2A Ridgefield have winning traditions. Without a "breather" on the schedule, Ilwaco must stay healthy and catch a huge dose of McNulty's winning attitude in a hurry in order to approach or surpass the .500 mark. To go further, the line must mature, the offense must diversify and Knick must again surpass the millennium mark in rushing. Judging from the Fishermen's early workouts, they may just come close to netting a surprise catch in 2007.
"Right now we are undefeated, improving daily, and having a great time," he jokes. "And we are all having fun." The Fishermen's first game is Friday, Aug. 31 at Wahkiakum and play their home opener Sept. 7 against Valley. Their first Trico tilt is Sept. 14 when the Rochester Warriors invade Ilwaco.
Other players on the roster are James Schneider, Nick Cobb, Sam Johnson, Travis Malmstadt, Charlie Shannon, Trevor Couch, Zach DeSimone, and Ikaika Thomas. Also out are Bobby Richards, Joseph Fjeldheim, Beau Morrow, Taylor Odneal, Dylan Short, Nick Cox, Tyler Turpin and Steven Keller.