Every time Kade Coons enters Washougal’s main gym, he can see the evidence.
Hanging is a banner that reads “9-0,” commemorating the school’s lone undefeated football season in 1994.
But winning seasons have been few and far between at Washougal since that wonder year.
Coons is driven to be a part of the group that puts up one more.
And he has been a part a focal point in the program’s turnaround under coach Dave Hajek.
Last season the Panthers advanced to the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and they are well on their way to punching a return ticket this November.
The Panthers senior running back, who wears the No. 5 in honor of his childhood favorite Reggie Bush’s days at the University of Southern California, isn’t just talk. He has amassed a career-best 630 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground to help lead the Panthers to its second 5-0 start in 22 years.
“Kade’s a difference-maker, I’d say that,” Hajek said.
His leadership has flourished along the way as Washougal has steadily built a winning culture.
“It feels nice,” he said, “but we still aren’t finished.”
He’s also much improved on the field.
He reckons he spent almost every day lifting last winter after deciding not to play basketball for the Panthers.
The result? He’s up 15-20 pounds of muscle, which has allowed him to bull through defenders — and improved his 40-meter dash time by two-tenths of a second.
“As a sophomore and junior he was a quick, elusive kid, but he was light,” Hajek said. “So guys could take him down with one hand. This year, not so much. You really gotta get ahold of him to tackle him.”
It was on display during Washougal’s 34-14 win over Ridgefield last Friday.
Coons gained nearly 200 yards rushing — a career-high. Many of them were gained after contact.
Hajek knows how hard it is to tackle Coons on the run. So he game-planned around that ability.
“We (went) to single back and threw a quick little swing route to him knowing they had the man up one them,” Hajek said. “They have good athletes, but I knew it was going to take more than one guy to take him down.”
Hajek has high praise for Coons’ talent.
“Really I think he’s one of the top kids in our league as a football player,” he said. “We have a couple guys, but he’s definitely one who could go anywhere and play in this area. He could go to Camas. He could go to Union. He could go to Skyview. And he’s a good enough athlete and strong enough that he’d start some place, where as you don’t always get that at our level.”
Coons is a part of a senior class that wanted to build on the successes of last season. So he joined with the two other team captains center Jackson Lindell and quarterback/kicker Ryan Stevens and took ownership of the team.
The trio have played together since youth league days.
He noticed it in a most glaring way in week 4 when the Panthers were playing Mark Morris.
Hajek has noticed how his leadership has flourished this season.
“He’s much better than last year,” Hajek said. “He’s a silent guy. He’s more of an introverted type of guy, but he gets his point across. And he’s definitely done a better job of stepping up and holding other athletes accountable — and helping other athletes.”
That leadership has become contagious, he said. The seniors saw it coming from a mile away.
“We knew this group was going to be special since freshman year, because all of us have played together for so long,” Coons said. “Coach Hajek’s first year was our freshman year, so it’s kind of like a father-figure, I guess you could say, because we’re like his first-born, you know what I mean?”
After this season, Coons plans on taking his game to the next level. He hopes to play in college.
Linfield is at the top of his list. He visited the campus for a game last Saturday, and has been in contact with coaches.
Playing football after high school has long been a dream of his. And he’s well on his way.
“Of course every little kid’s dream is to play in the NFL or something,” Coons said. “But playing in college is a big dream for me. Football has always been such a big part of my life, so, I’m now wanting to do something bigger than high school.”
Until then, Coons has plenty to focus on. His Panthers host 5-0 Hockinson for a 2A Greater St Helens League showdown. The Hawks disposed of the Panthers last season — the lone loss in Washougal’s last six regular-season games of 2016.
Including a forfeit win
When pressed about the matchup, he cracked a smile out of the corner of his mouth.
“We’re very excited,” he said. “It’s the one that’s always been in the back of our heads.”