Evergreen football coach Christian Swain knew he had a problem to solve after last season.
Opponents were not overly concerned with the Plainsmen’s running game.
In six games last season, Evergreen had nearly twice as many passing yards as rushing yards, and nearly a third of the Plainsmen’s rushing yards came from quarterback scrambles.
Between the tackles, the Plainsmen struggled.
“We really wanted to create more of a physical mentality here at Evergreen,” Swain said.
Swain challenged his players, and they responded.
“It all starts in the weight room,” said David Kailea, a senior defensive end/tight end. “If you’re not in the weight room, you can’t be strong up front. … So a lot of us upperclassmen were talking with everyone, get everyone together to get some lifts.”
The lifting continued throughout the summer, all the way to a four-day team camp in August, when players met at Evergreen High from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“That really pushed things too,” said junior Carlos Churape, an offensive lineman/defensive tackle. “We had four days of non-stop practice.”
The 12-hour days including a morning workout, team breakfast, meetings, film sessions, lifting session, team lunch, a team bonding activity and finish with drills on the field.
Junior Koby Kast, an offensive lineman/defensive tackle, said the camp was attended by more than 80 percent of the players on the current roster.
“Our players are very close,” Kast said. “We are all really close as a family. And we push each other to go farther.”
“You’d be surprised how many people we got out,” Kailea said. “Everybody wants it.”
And after two games, the Plainsmen are seeing the rewards of their offseason work, as the front lines on offense and defense paved the way to wins over Centralia and Washougal.
Last week against Washougal, the Plainsmen flipped the script from last season, rushing for 232 yards and passing for 123.
Kyle Norton, who has rushed for 268 yards and three touchdowns in two games, is appreciative of his teammates up front.
“I don’t know what I would do without them,” Norton said. “They always work. They work hard day in and day out. I have a great connection with them. They’re like family to me. When I see them working hard, it makes me want to work even harder.”
Kast enjoys seeing his teammates fill up the stat sheet. It means the guys up front are doing their jobs.
“It feels great when any of our players do anything,” Kast said. “I love sharing the hype with my brothers whenever they make a play. Rallying with them, freaking out, giving them their props. Kyle has been killing it. DK (Kailea) has been killing it. All of us have been going at it.”
But the Evergreen line is also young, and the Plainsmen know there is room for growth. Besides juniors Kast and Churape, Evergreen also starts two sophomores up front.
And the Plainsmen also know there are bigger and better teams ahead on the schedule.
“We are also not afraid of a challenge,” Kast said. “Any team that wants to come this way, we’re ready. We’ll play.”
“One thing is we are not always going to be the biggest, but we do have the biggest mentality,” Churape said. “We have dog mentality, and we’re going to go out there and battle.”
Kailea added: “We got some lines at Evergreen.”
That’s exactly what Swain was looking for.
“I’m really proud of how the kids have embraced that (mentality),” Swain said. “We’ve got a lot of kids going both ways, and I thought they’ve given great effort.”