WOODLAND — A couple of seasons ago, Woodland's once-proud football program didn't win a game.
A couple of days before the kickoff to the 2012 season, "juggernaut" was among the words used to describe the high expectations for the Beavers.
1A Trico League preview
LA CENTER WILDCATS
Coach: John Lambert.
2011 record: 8-3, 6-1 1A Trico.
Key players: Josh McNeal, sr., ol/lb; Jacob Mendez, sr., ol/dl; Gabe Bunker, sr., te/lb; Tyrone Kulla, sr., rb/lb; Jared Huddleston, sr., rb/lb; Taylor Dreyer, sr., rb/db; AJ Myers, sr., te/de; Jerimiah Arn, sr., wr/de; Dylan King, jr., qb/db; Connor Fulton, jr., rb/lb.
Season outlook: The Wildcats return six starters on offense and nine on defense from the team that shared the 2011 Trico title. Lineman Josh McNeal, a fourth-year starter, anchors both lines, and La Center has plenty of depth at the skill positions. The chase for the league title could come down to the final two games.
Aug. 31 Ilwaco*
Sept. 7 at Stevenson*
Sept. 14 at Kalama*
Sept. 21 Castle Rock*
Sept. 28 Wh. Salmon*
Oct. 5 Tenino
Oct. 12 at Seton*
Oct. 19 Toledo*
Oct. 26 at Woodland*
- — 1A Trico game
Home games played at La Center MS
SETON CATHOLIC COUGARS
Coach: Dan Chase.
2011 record: 2012 is Seton Catholic’s first as a varsity.
Key players: Riley McShane, sr., qb/dl; Eric Powell, sr., wr/pk; Chris O’Connor, jr. ol/lb; Mark Fry, jr., ol/lb.
Season outlook: The Cougars, who played a junior varsity schedule in 2011, begin play in the Class 1A Trico League with 29 players out for football. Eric Powell is hoping to play college football as a kicker.
Aug. 31 Castle Rock*
Sept. 7 at Ilwaco*
Sept. 15 Woodland*
Sept. 21 at Stevenson*
Sept. 28 at Toledo*
Oct. 5 at W. Salmon*
Oct. 12 La Center*
Oct. 19 Kalama*
Oct. 26 at Rainier
- — 1A Trico game
Home games played at Doc Harris Stadium
Coach: David Waymire.
2011 record: 1-8, 0-7 1A Trico.
Key players: Zack Irwin, sr., rb/lb; Kasey Wallace, sr., c/dl; Evan Weibe, jr., ol/dl; Jacob Schnieder, sr., rb/lb.
Season outlook: The Bulldogs are a young team for the second year in a row, but with improved commitment and eight players who saw significant varsity action in 2011, second-year head coach David Waymire is looking for improved results.
Aug. 31 at Toledo*
Sept. 7 La Center*
Sept. 14 at Castle Rck*
Sept. 21 Seton Catholic
Sept. 28 at Kalama*
Oct. 5 at Ilwaco*
Oct. 12 at Woodland*
Oct. 19 Rochester
Oct. 26 Wh. Salmon*
- — 1A Trico game
Home games played at Stevenson High School
Coach: Mark Greenleaf, 10th season.
2011 record: 5-5, 3-1 2A GSHL.
Key players: Zach Lacey, sr., ol/dl; Cy Whitmire, sr., rb/lb; Eli Whitmire, soph., rb/lb; Hunter Huddleston, jr., qb/lb; Braden Koering, sr., ol/dl; Kyle Hendrix, jr., te/dl; Logan Piper, jr., wr/fs; Trever Huddleston, soph., wr/db; Tanner Bradshaw, sr., ol/dl; Brandon Preston, sr., ol/dl; Erik Birnel, sr., dl/te.
Season outlook: The Beavers return to the 1A Trico League sporting plenty of weapons and improved depth. A total of 74 players were out for football this week at Woodland. And coach Greenleaf, in his 10th season, said this team has better quickness than he’s seen in six seasons.
Aug. 31 Kalama*
Sept. 7 at Castle Rck*
Sept. 15 at Seton*
Sept. 21 Montesano
Sept. 28 Ilwaco*
Oct. 5 at Toledo*
Oct. 12 Stevenson*
Oct. 19 at W. Salmon*
Oct. 26 La Center*
- — 1A Trico game
Home games played at Woodland High School
REST OF THE 1A TRICO LEAGUE
Season outlook: Four teams are viewed as contenders for the league title. La Center shared the title last season and returns a good nucleus. Woodland moves down from Class 2A with a goal of reaching the state playoffs. Toledo has 14 seniors who were part of the team that reached the 1A state quarterfinals in 2011. Toledo, La Center and Kalama shared the Trico championship last season, but Kalama is without 2011 Trico offensive MVP Austin Johnson, who transferred to Mark Morris. Castle Rock also is considered a Trico title contender.
KING'S WAY CHRISTIAN KNIGHTS
Coach: Luke Gillock.
2011 record: 8-2, lost in Class B-8 state quarterfinals.
Key players: Jay Becker, jr., qb/db; Brad Benton, jr., ol/dl; Trevor Nesbitt, jr., ol/dl; Austin Porter, jr., wr/db; Josh Tully, soph., wr/db; Josiah Tully soph. rb/db.
Season outlook: The Knights will play one more season of eight-man football, but will not be eligible for the playoffs now that King’s Way has moved up to Class 1A for all other sports. As a sophomore quarterback last season, Jay Becker accounted for 50 touchdowns and was the Columbia Valley League offensive MVP.
Aug. 30 at Dufur (Ore.)
Sept. 14 at Rainier Chr.
Sept. 22 at Wishkah
Sept. 29 vs. Lyle
Oct. 6 at MM Knight
Oct. 13 Taholah
Oct. 20 at L. Quinault
Oct. 25 at WSD
Nov. 3 Oakville
All games non-league
Home games played at Devereaux Field, WSD
Not that the Beavers expect to romp. But for the first time in six years, they are one of the big boys in their league, a situation they relish.
"Our whole school expects us to be good this season," junior quarterback Hunter Huddleston said, summing up the mood.
Indeed, coach Mark Greenleaf said hope is one of the critical ingredients that has rejuvenated his program. And that hope comes from knowing that the Beavers won't be outnumbered every time they take the field.
The 74 players in the program this August are evidence of the turnaround -- proof that football is cool again in Woodland.
Expectations have risen in part because Woodland has moved down into the 1A enrollment classification. After six years of being the smallest school in the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League, Woodland sports return this school year to the Class 1A Trico League.
"I'm excited to play in the 1A league," Huddleston said. "(Class) 1A is more fair for us."
Woodland is coming off a 5-5 bounce-back season in 2011. Many of the players who made that happen are back for one more go-around -- one more chance to replace the unhappy memories of that 0-9 season of 2010 with happier outcomes.
"It's simple. I hate losing more than I like winning, so that whole season was horrible," senior linemanZach Lacey said.
The Beavers' six seasons at Class 2A were not all awful. They were usually competitive within the GSHL -- sharing a league championship in 2006 and winning the league title in 2007. Lacey, for example, was an all-league lineman each of the last three 2A GSHL seasons.
But even in their best seasons, the Beavers did not have enough athletes to compete at the state level.
Greenleaf, in his 10th season as the Woodland coach, said the drop to 1A has helped build enthusiasm for the season because students realize Woodland might be able to reach the state playoffs again -- something that was an unlikely longshot as the smallest 2A school.
The players aren't expecting an easy ride. They know that La Center, Kalama and Toledo have had solid programs in the Trico League. But they do look forward to maybe having a chance to compete in meaningful games every week.
The Trico League has nine teams playing football this season, so eight of the nine games on the schedule count in the standings.
Woodland's one non-league game is a Sept. 21 visit from Montesano.
"That game is going to be our marker of how we're stacking up to 1A competition," Lacey said.
Montesano was the opponent that Woodland last beat in playoff game. That was in November 2005, the last season the Beavers were in the 1A ranks.
While they look forward to the opportunities afforded by playing 1A competition, Woodland players and coaches said they wouldn't mind testing themselves against 2A competition this season.
"A lot of young linemen have grown up a little bit over the last two years," said senior running back and linebacker Cy Whitmire, a fourth-year varsity player who last season rushed for 1,257 yards.
That maturity was hard-earned, and it is as much about emotion as it is about size and confidence.
Two years ago, Woodland was a team opponents beat up on. Last season the Beavers improved just enough to experience the disappointment of finishing one win short of a league title.
Now, they are excited about the chance to impose their will and skill on schools their own size.