With just five seniors on the roster, first-year coach Ian Shoemaker needed young players to step into leadership roles. Zalk and Haynes haven’t disappointed.
“There’s no doubt those guys are mentally capable of taking on that role,” Shoemaker said in a phone interview from Ellensburg.
With his speed and physicality, Haynes made an instant impression on the new coach during spring practice. He was so well-suited to play middle linebacker that Shoemaker moved returning all-conference senior JB Torsy to outside linebacker.
“Playing in the middle allows me to use my speed and move sideline to sideline,” Haynes said. “It’s a lot of fun. There’s not as much gap responsibility in that position.”
Shoemaker said his defense relies on having a player in the middle who can fly to the ball in pass coverage or attack a running back.
Laden with underclassmen, Central Washington carries a youthful bravado that has seen the Wildcats win three of their first four conference games.
“Everyone, even the older guys, know they have to compete every practice because we’re not afraid to play our younger guys,” Shoemaker said. “The more competitive we can be in practice, the better.”
Haynes says this year’s young team is not satisfied with simply being in the mix for the GNAC title.
“We hold ourselves to pretty high standards,” Haynes said. “We’re not satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. But it’s a process of learning how to reach those goals.”