A year ago the Wellpinit Redskins plowed new football turf by making their first State 1B tournament appearance.
The hope this year is a run deeper than last year’s top-eight finish and 9-3 season record.
“It was really exciting. Just making the playoffs was a big accomplishment for us,” said star running back and linebacker AJ Kieffer. “We want to do more.”
It is a comment echoed by Wellpinit coach Clark Pauls.
Kieffer, then a freshman, and Pauls arrived in Wellpinit together four years ago.
Last year’s win total doubled the previous two seasons and 18 lettermen return, 13 who played substantially.
“When I got to Wellpinit and took over the team, basketball was kind of a way of life,” Pauls said. “I always thought we’d have the ability to compete in everything and tried to change the mindset.”
He got players to give football a try and put in the effort. His first two squads were 5-5 and 4-6.
“The kids started thirsting on that and wanted more and more,” said the Whitworth College graduate who played for his dad, Skip, winner of two state titles at Davenport. “Last year it kind of clicked.”
Having Kieffer didn’t hurt. He’s part of a returning one-two offensive punch – along with Kyle McCrea – that accounted for some 40 touchdowns, including those Kieffer threw from time to time as an added dimension in lieu of now-graduated quarterback Greg Wynecoop.
Both Kieffer and McCrea were two-way all-Northeast 1B North Division players.
“Last year those two probably combined for 75 percent of our offense. Both are state placers in track and field,” Clark Pauls said. “(AJ) makes everything click. He had over 2,400 all-purpose yards and 25 touchdowns. And he plays quarterback in some sets.”
What will it take to improve upon last year’s unprecedented season?
“Just a lot more work and dedication from everyone on the team,” Kieffer said. “Not just the starting players, but everybody on the team.”
He credits Pauls with innovations that helped the team become successful. And with so many returning players, there’s reason this year for optimism.
“(Is there) excitement (this year)?” Kiefer said. “That’s for sure.”