By Tom Rohrer
Football has transformed from a four-month season sport played in the fall and the early stages of winter into a yearlong activity where wins and losses are earned months before facing an actual opponent.
The long days in the weight room, traveling to 7-on-7 tournaments and the hours watching game film lead into the crescendo that has become the high school football season.
After all the practice and preparation stemming from the end of the 2012 season, the Tenino High School football team is in an unusual situation heading into the season finale against Rochester on Friday, Nov. 1.
“In my time here, we’ve never been in position like this,” said Tenino head coach Jeff Zenisek, now in his fourth season leading the Beavers. “To be able to control our own destiny, it’s a great opportunity, and we need to respond accordingly.”
The match-up between the county rivals and 1A Evergreen League foes will be for the league championship and the opportunity to host a district cross-over playoff game the following weekend.
Rochester will travel to Tenino Friday at 6-2 overall and 4-1 in league on the season, while the Beavers, who have won four of their last five games, stand at 4-4 and 4-1 respectively.
After losing 12 starters from last year’s 6-4 club, the Beavers faced a myriad of questions surrounding the program entering the 2013 season.
Gone was star all-purpose player Devante Harris, who played running back, quarterback, defensive back and kick returner during his four years at the school. Standout quarterback Mac Shaw and a host of other playmakers, including four receivers, also graduated. These players helped lead the Beavers into the first round of the District 4 playoffs, where they fell to Woodland 28-3 last November.
The transition period of integrating players into their new roles carried over to the beginning of the season, as the Beavers lost their first three games in September.
“We were trying to find out who we were, what we could do and that’s always a learning process early in the season,” said Zenisek. “When you lose that many starters from the previous team that will happen.”
The turning point for the Beavers came on Friday, Sept. 27, when Tenino was able to eek out a one point win in their 21-20 victory against league opponent Forks High School. Since that time, the Beavers have not lost a league contest.
“That’s where we flipped the switch,” said sophomore quarterback and defensive back Calvin Guzman of the victory over Forks. “We all got fired up after that, and I think it gave everyone more confidence.”
Guzman won the starting quarterback position over standout defensive back Zeb Chamberlain prior to the start of the season. A gunslinger in the truest sense of the word, Guzman’s strong arm was both a blessing and a curse in the opening month of the season. According to Zenisek, Guzman’s improvement began when the sophomore quit trying for the big play on every throw.
“He just wanted to throw the deep ball all season and I made it clear I wanted him to throw to the open guy,” said Zenisek. “He’s done that, and he keeps improving.”
The emergence of Guzman as not only a more proficient passer, but as a playmaker running the ball has opened up the offense, as well. Behind an inexperienced, but talented, offensive line, the Beavers now have a variety of options to attack opposing defenses.
One of the main options is senior running back and middle-linebacker Zack Chamberlain, considered to be the work horse of the Beaver offense. Unlike last year, Tenino relies on long, sustained drives to score the football rather than the big plays that were a normal occurrences for the Beavers a year ago. The ability of Chamberlain to grind out five or six yards consistently on runs helps open up the passing offense or for Guzman to take advantage of cleared running lanes.
“If its third-and-two, I can go to my coaches and tell them what we should run because I know Chamberlain can pick it up,” said Guzman. “He’s so dependable for us that it’s almost a comforting factor.”
“We are all about moving the chains over and over again,” said Zenisek. “We have that smash mouth mentality where we can just hand Chamberlain the ball and wear out their defense. But at the same time, we can take advantage of our other match-ups if Zack is getting keyed on.”
“We’re just more balanced, more together,” added Chamberlain “We can run and throw well, and that’s not always been the case.”
Sophomore all-purpose offensive standout and outside middle-linebacker Thomas Pier has been able to take such advantage of the focus on Chamberlain, giving the Beavers a deep threat on the outside as a wide-out and another option out of the backfield on sweeps and counters in the running game.
The younger brother of Harris, Pier saw playing time and started games at the varsity level in 2012 and has since transformed into a two-way player and a leader for the Beavers.
“We’ve played so much together already that we’ve earned the respect of the older guys,” said Pier of himself and the rest of the contributing underclassman on the team. “We know what it takes to be successful at this level.”
Pier and Guzman are part of a talented sophomore class that has been winning games together since their days at Tenino Middle School.
Zenisek is impressed with the moxie displayed by young players such as Guzman and Pier, and believes the future of the program is in good hands.
“We have known about this class for a while and they already had a reputation coming into high school, so to see them perform with all the pressure, that’s not surprising to us,” said Zenisek. “Getting adjusted to the speed and the strength of the varsity level coming from the J.V. level can be a challenge. But they’re in the position to win now, and have set themselves nicely up for the next two seasons.”
Part of the credit in the development of the young players certainly must fall to Zenisek and the rest of the Tenino coaching staff.
“They keep us in check and don’t let us get to far ahead of ourselves,” said Pier. “They all have played college and know the game well, so we have confidence in them and what they are trying to teach us.”
“We’ve been able to battle back in some games and I think the coaching staff is a big part of that,” said Chamberlain. “They’ve made us believe that we can win and are never out of a game.”
The turnaround by the Beavers this season has the Tenino community buzzing, just exactly the type of atmosphere both the THS coach and players relish playing in.
“It’s very exciting just seeing how pumped up everyone is for the game,” said Guzman. “Everyone is coming up, asking what we think the score will be or telling us what we need to do to win. It’s a lot of hype, but it’s fun to experience.”
“These types of games are why you play and why you coach,” said Zenisek. “We want our kids to enjoy the moment but still play to win.”
With so much hype surrounding Friday night’s game, the Beavers are looking to harness their emotions and focus on doing their job like they have been for the last month.
“I like the pressure, some people don’t, but it’s what I look forward to playing in,” said Pier. “If you can use pressure to your advantage, you won’t be scared to make a mistake or hesitate.”
“We just need to stay on the same page and keep working hard,” said Chamberlain. “If we keep our focus, we should be able to accomplish what we need.”
Tenino will take on Rochester at Beaver Stadium in Tenino on Friday, Nov. 1, beginning at 7 p.m.