Prep football 2014: Everything is new again

Practices open with new coaches and new league alignments

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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photoCamas football players put their best foot forward on the opening day of practice Wednesday.

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photoFort Vancouver football players hit the blocking sled on the first day of practice.

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Angel Bonilla looked ready to play, refreshed even.

He did not look tired, even if he had a bad night's rest.

"I wasn't able to sleep yesterday," Bonilla said. "I was just thinking football. It's my last year. Probably the last time I'll play in my life. I am going to work hard."

Bonilla, a senior at Fort Vancouver, was one of thousands of football players throughout Washington who opened practice for the 2014 season Wednesday.

State champions. League champions. Playoff teams. And all the rest. They all start fresh this week.

"Pure bliss," Bonilla said.

In Clark County, there are new head coaches at Fort Vancouver, Heritage, Hockinson, Hudson's Bay, Union, and Washougal. And new players mixing in with veteran players at every program.

Bonilla said there is a renewed optimism at Fort Vancouver with the return of coach Cal Szueber, who coached the Trappers from 2007 through 2010.

"We got all these new coaches in here working to make us get better," Bonilla said. "We're going to work hard and prove to everybody that we are somebody here at Fort Vancouver. We can work just as hard as everybody."

Football players (and fans) in Southwest Washington will also have to get used to new league settings after reclassification. The Class 4A Greater St. Helens League now has seven teams. The 3A GSHL has four. Hudson's Bay is now a 2A program. Woodland moved up from 1A to 2A. (Look for more details on these changes when The Columbian kicks off its preview features Sunday.)

At Heritage, Chuck Hawthorne has his first head coaching job since he resigned from Mountain View 25 years ago.

"Whether it was 20-something years ago or now, it's still the same," Hawthorne said of the feeling of the first day of practice. "The kids have got to learn to succeed you have to put the effort in and commit to the program."

He reminded his players that Heritage has been "down" in recent years but that is going to change. And the change has already started.

Hawthorne stopped drills a couple of times Wednesday in order to discipline some of his players who he said were not focused.

He also praised players when they performed well.

"We've got a lot of potential here, but we have a lot of things to overcome," Hawthorne said. "We have to change the culture."

Heritage senior Jarod Luedecker said the tough love is needed.

"With Coach Hawthorne taking over, it's a different mentality this year. It's very disciplined this year. That's what I like. It makes everybody excited to start the year."

The Timberwolves understand that not much is expected of them from outsiders in terms of the win-loss record.

"Heritage has been stuck in mediocrity for too long," Luedecker said. "Coach Hawthorne is the guy to push us to the next level and help us surprise everybody in the league."

Another team out to prove something this season is Camas.

Not that the program has anything to prove. The Papermakers have won four consecutive league titles, including two at the 4A level, and finished second in the state last year.

However, only one full-time starter returns from that 2013 squad. The players making up the 2014 roster have plenty to showcase.

"It means a lot to get out here," senior Cole Zarcone said. "New guys, new family, new brothers. We've been working hard all summer. To be able to finally say it's actually happening is pretty special."

Zarcone said every player on this team is ready to continue the Camas tradition.

"We believe we can do everything we did last year," Zarcone said. "We want to prove to everyone we are just as good as all the other Camas football teams."

The first day of practice also gives coaches a chance to talk up their teams.

Back at Fort Vancouver, Szueber said he is thrilled with starting over with the Trappers.

"We've got more talent than I could have imagined," Szueber said. "With only two wins the past three years, I didn't know what we had. We've got athletes."

Every football program has enthusiasm, especially on this day.