By Tom Rohrer
Sitting at 7-1 overall with a 4-1 record in the 3A Narrows League, the Highclimbers have an opportunity to wreak havoc at the top of the league standings, as they travel to Lacey this Friday to take on first place Timberline High School at 7 p.m. at South Sound Stadium.
After a 2-8 campaign that led to a 7th place finish in the 4A Narrows League in 2011, the Shelton High School football team has rebounded in a big way this year.
If Shelton defeats the Blazers on Friday, there will be a three-way tie at the top of the league between the two competing schools and North Thurston High School. North Thurston defeated Shelton earlier this year 21-20, while Timberline defeated the Rams last weekend 24-0.
A big reason for Shelton’s turnaround in their first year in the 3A side of the Narrows league has been the play of their senior backfield duo, in running back Ralph Kinne and fullback DeShon Bell. On a team featuring talent and depth at all positions (including Oregon State bound tight end David Ajamu) Bell and Kinne have been able to complement each-other perfectly for head coach Matt Hinkle’s team.
After experiencing with a spread offense attack the past few seasons, the Highclimbers got back to basics, and returned to a traditional power-run attack, that allows the two friends, who have played together since 8th grade, to make plays, while creating mismatches for one another.
“My main job is to try and blow up holes so he has places to run,” said Bell, who plans to attend either Washington State University or Eastern Washington University (hopefully to play football). “The offensive line and I, we just try to make running room for him. Every once in a while once they start keying on him, they give me the ball and that gives me lots of running room.”
“It’s a great addition, I enjoy playing with DeShon,” Kinne added. “Knowing that he can make a big play too (is huge). I’ve still got to work hard, but I still got DeShon to help out a lot.”
Coach Hinkle, now in his 19th season leading the Highclimbers, has never seen a backfield duo like this during his tenure.
“Both of them are real special, and the combination in the same year is something really rare for us,” said Hinkle. “It’s just a situation where we’ve got a real physical running back, mature kid, solid leg drive and you couple that with a dynamic fullback in front of him as well as an offensive line that’s really doing a good job. It’s a combination of all that stuff coming together.”
While both backs have earned their success through off season training regimens (Bell focused on strength in order to take on linebackers, while Kinne powerlifted to gain strength, and ran track to improve his speed), they both credit the play of their offensive line and selfless tight end.
“That is the key to our success because you can have a good running back, but if you don’t have an offensive line, it doesn’t matter how good your running back is, he’s not going to be able to break eleven tackles every play,” Bell said. “Having those big five guys up front, plus (Ajamu) making big blocks most of the time too, and sacrificing his numbers making plays for us on the line too. They’re our foundation.”
“They’re great across the board from left tackle to right tackle…and our tight end is amazing too,” Kinne said. “They open the big holes, and I just read them and cut.”
After last season’s disappointing finish, the Highclimbers team, led by the senior class, has come together, aligning Shelton towards a playoff appearance.
“In the years we’ve been successful, we’ve had (senior classes) like this, that have that synergetic effect of pulling everybody together,” Hinkle said. “These guys have it, and it’s a good senior bunch.”
“You always hear teams say they have a brotherhood,” Kinne said. “Well, this is our brotherhood. We’re that close.”
Playing for such a tradition laden program (former Shelton Offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff is a back-up guard for the NFL’s New York Jets) and a supportive community has been a dream come true for the players.
“It’s awesome playing for this team, because I had a lot of family that played here,” said Bell who plays for the Shelton Rugby Club and is a member of the Interact Club that works with Shelton Rotary Club. “They’ve had some success too, a couple went on to play in college. It’s nice to be able to follow in their footsteps and be a part of the culture that the football program has in this town.”
“It’s great that everybody supports us,” said Kinne, the school’s ASB Vice-President, and member of the National Honor Society, Key Club and DECA. “It makes me feel better about myself and the team. With the support of the community, it lets us know they have our back 100 percent of time.”
Playing for an experienced and well respected coach in Hinkle has been a great experience for the two as well.
“Coach Hinkle is a wonderful coach,” said Kinne, a vocal leader who leads pre-game speeches and breaks the Shelton huddle. “He gets at us, and gets us working hard.”
“I love playing for Hinkle,” said Bell, a self-described leader by example. “He got me comfortable with the program and gave me a chance to play.”
While the season has been a success for the Highclimbers up until this point, Shelton knows they need to stay focused to the task-at-hand this Friday.
“I think we just have to get a good push, and hit our hole hard and make it happen,” Kinne said of going against Timberlines talented defensive line.
“We’re just taking it like any other game, you know,” Bell said, “Just working hard in practice and maintaining our focus and going in and doing what we do.”
Tune in to ROXY radio throughout the week and Friday for coverage of Shelton vs. Timberline, live from South Sound Stadium in Lacey on Friday, Oct. 26, at 7 p.m.
For more information on the Shelton High School football team, visit shstouchdownclub.com.