Otton’s T-Birds Football Team Just Keeps On Winning, Riding A Seven-Game Win Streak Into The Playoffs


tumwater footballBy Gail Wood

Back in August Sid Otton saw Tumwater’s potential to be a playoff team.

Coming off a state 2A championship, the Tumwater coach had seven starters returning on offense, including quarterback Daniel Hinkle and running back Ronnie Hastie.

But Otton, Tumwater’s coach since 1974 and the state’s all-time winningest football coach, worried about his team’s ability to endure injuries.

At 7-1 going into Friday’s playoff games against Archbishop Murphy, Tumwater is still winning, despite injuries.

“We had talent coming back, but you get an injury here and an injury there and things can change,” Otton said.

Two weeks ago in a 41-13 win against Black Hills, Tumwater lost all-league tight end Zach Wimberly, a 6-foot-3 senior who is being recruited by Eastern Washington. He injured his tibia and is lost for the season. But the T-Birds kept winning.

In a 42-7 win against Chehalis in the third game of the season, Hinkle got hit on the second offensively play of the game and injured his shoulder. Backup Jayden Croft, Otton’s grandson, replaced Hinkle for the rest of that game. But Tumwater, going to Wimberly in the wildcat formation, figured out a way to win.

Wimberly scored four touchdowns that game.

In its run to the 2A Evergreen Conference championship, Tumwater has again shown a determined resilience. Tumwater’s winning tradition – five state championships, 21 league titles – is a motivator.

tumwater football“You don’t want to be the team that lets down,” Hinkle said.

After Hinkle threw for 1,400 yards with 23 touchdowns and just two interceptions last season, Tumwater has relied more on the run than the pass this season. But Otton said Hinkle shouldn’t be measured by how many yards and touchdowns he’s thrown.

“His biggest numbers are that in the two years he’s been our start our only losses have been to Olympia,” Otton said. “In my list of seven or eight traits of a good quarterback, passing stats are way down towards the bottom. It’s the other stuff that he brings.”

At running back, instead of Hastie, who rushed for 918 yards last season and scored 10 touchdowns, Andrew Brown has been the T-Bird’s go-to-guy. Brown, a junior, has rushed for 738 yards, averaging 9.1 yards per carry. Hastie is averaging 6.9 yards per carry, but he’s rushed for just under 500 yards, half of what he ran for last season.

“We saw Andrew’s speed last year,” Otton said. “He’s learning how to be more of a running back, protecting the ball. He’s a hard one to catch.”

Otton said Hastie has accepted his diminished role, doing whatever he can to help the team win. He’s also been playing linebacker.

“Ronnie is a guy out of the 70s,” Otton said. “He’s good old, blue collar, hard nosed. When he gets going to the end zone, he’s going to lower his center of gravity. And he’s a great blocker, too. He’s a real strong team man.”

Defensively, Riley Prentice, a senior outside linebacker who had 131 tackles last season, is again leading his team in tackles.

“Riley will surely be up for MVP of our league this year,” Otton said. “He has about 30 tackles more than anyone else.”

Add Jamie Bryant, a speedy 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior defensive tackle with a major college future in football, and Tumwater has been tough to score on.

Since its 43-36 comeback win against North Thurston, Tumwater has outscored its last four opponents 174-20, shutting out Centralia and Aberdeen.

Otton said a big surprise on defense has been Brennan Hinkle, Daniel’s twin brother. Brennan is starting at defensive end for the first time.

“We talk with our kids about being an ordinary player that plays extraordinary,” Otton said. “That’s how Brennan and some of the other kids have been. Some people you teach them how to slant, but then they don’t know how to react. Brennan knows how to react.”

On offense, Payton Olson, while only 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, has a steady player at fullback. Olson’s contributions can’t be measure with statistics.

“He’s a kid who is so smart,” Otton said. “He knows his stuff. It’s pretty irritating putting kids in there who don’t know their assignments. He’s like a coach on the field.”

Part of Tumwater’s secret to its winning tradition is stability at coaching. Otton’s coaching staff are all long-time loyalists. Steve Shoun joined the team in 1982, Jamie Weeks in 1986 and Rob Hinkle in 1987. Pat Alexander has been Otton’s defensive coordinator since 1976, just two years after Otton’s arrival.

Otton’s son, Tim, has been with the coaching staff for over a decade, breaking down the game video and setting up scouting reports.

Alexander retired from teaching in 1994, but he doesn’t want to retire from coaching. Not as long as Sid is coaching.

“He’s the greatest role model, and not just for the players,” Alexander said. “In all my years with him, I’ve never heard him say anything negative about a player or a coach.”

Otton is now the winningest high school football coach in state history. But it didn’t start out that way. In his first three years at Tumwater, his teams went 7-20, including a 1-8 mark in his third season.

But the wins started to come.

Tumwater won its fifth state championship under Otton and crew last year.

Tumwater’s first state title came in 1987 and again in ’89, ’90 and ’93. In that back-to-back run for state championships, Tumwater won 33 straight games. Otton likes to have past players talk to his teams leading up to a playoff game. He uses the team’s past as an ally.

“That’s a gift we have here,” Otton said. “I thought our team capitalized this year on being on the top of the mountain.”

But all that winning seemed to be at end when Tumwater struggled through a 3-6 season in 1997, Otton’s first losing season in 18 years. Tumwater lost more games that season than in the previous six. Tumwater had opened up another school by then, splitting the town’s talent pool. It seemingly marked the end of the T-Birds’ incredible ride where it went 120-12 in the previous 11 seasons and were seemingly destined to middle-of-the-pack finishes.

But Tumwater bounced back. After going 5-4 in 1998, Otton’s T-Birds won four straight league championships, averaging 10 wins over that stretch.

Then after another hick-up – a 4-6 season in 2003 followed by a 5-5 season – Tumwater went 18-5 over the next two seasons and has been playoff bound each season since.

Now, Tumwater faces an Archbishop team that has a quick-strike offense and an aggressive, in your-face defense. Tumwater beat Archbishop 34-14 in last year’s state championship game.

tumwater football“They’ve got some speed guys again,” Otton said. “They run the shovel pass a lot. They do a nice job with it. I’m proud of the way our defense has progressed. They’ve done a nice job.”

Another test waits.

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