Passion is running high around the University Titans football team – the type that fuels a team that’s lucky enough to find itself in the playoffs.
The emotion ran high as the team knocked off O’Dea, 34-6 in a first-round Class 3A playoff game last week – sending the Titans into the state quarterfinals for the first time in school history. They play host to North Thurston at 5 p.m. today for a berth in the state semifinals.
“We like the guys to be excited and fired up – the coaching staff gets fired up right along with them,” first-year head coach Rob Bartlett said. “We want them to have fun.”
U-Hi had serious fun against the Fighting Irish, mixing a stout defense and a quick-strike offense.
“We stopped them inside the 10-yard line a couple times, we had numerous three-and-outs, and that would just inspire the offense to go out and make big plays,” Bartlett said. “The guys just seem to feed off of each other.”
University’s playoff history is dominated by the Tri-Cities, and Richland in particular. In the Titans’ five appearances in the first round of the state playoffs, two losses were to Richland and two more were to Kennewick. In 2010, U-Hi lost to Mt. Spokane. Since 1993 University met Richland three times in state play-in games, losing all three times.
“I remember a lot of those playoff games,” Bartlett said. “U-Hi always seemed to have to play Richland, and in those days the Big Nine was pretty dominant. And those Richland teams were awfully good.
“I wish I could tell you why they were so dominant, but these days I think the tables have turned. The Greater Spokane League has been pretty dominant lately. I think that has a lot to do with the depth of the league – you look at how many teams are in the playoffs: Mead and Gonzaga Prep are alive in the Class 4A playoffs. And there are several more teams that could be if they’d gotten in.”
Truth be told, the passion has been running high at U-Hi since May, when Bartlett was hired to replace the retired Bill Diedrick.
New head football coaches always make the speech to their players. They talk about devotion and dedication to the school and about commitment to the program and to one another.
From most new coaches, the talk about devotion to a school can ring a bit hollow, as though the speech is pre-written with a section labeled “insert name of school here.”
That wasn’t the case with Bartlett, who grew up around University High football – first with his father, Bob, who coached the Titans for eight seasons while Rob was in grade school and middle school, later as a Titan quarterback. The crimson and gold is in his blood.
“You can’t lie to 16- and 17-year-old boys. They can spot it from a mile away,” he said. “This whole staff is dedicated to making this program great, but even better is the fact that a lot of us are U-Hi graduates ourselves.”
Five assistant coaches are former Titan players: brothers Adam and Jason Daniel and Eric and Dalton Puyear, and freshman coach Tom Hoiland.
“We could tell right from the beginning that this group was totally buying into the system,” Bartlett said. “We’ve talked a lot about them not only playing for this year, but setting the tone for the players who play behind them and for the ones who come along later.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked of them.”
Bartlett said he and an assistant talked this week about where the team is heading. The verdict? The team is so adept at running the offensive and defensive schemes that the staff is merely fine-tuning. Everyone, players and coaches, all are on the same page – not just with the game play but with in-game adjustments.
Post-season honors reflect the Titans’ season.
Four U-Hi players were named to the All-Greater Spokane League first team: defensive back Austin Flynn, linebacker Isaiah Watkins, offensive lineman Levi Anderson and tight end/receiver Nathan Hundeby.
Three more were named to the All-GSL second team: quarterback Jeff Beaty, tailback Adrian Bonner and kicker Trevor Martin.
Four Titans were awarded honorable mention: Bonner was selected as a defensive back along with linebacker Colin Deyarmin, defensive back Andrew Morgan, offensive lineman Austin Ruiz.
The challenge now, Bartlett said, is to get as much information together as possible on teams the staff has never seen.
“We keep going over game film and looking for things we can work with,” he said. “It’s easier these days than it used to be because there are more resources on the Internet. But it’s still a challenge.”
The offense already has made adjustments for tonight’s game.
“We changed some things for O’Dea because we knew they’d scouted us well and we wanted to change things up, show them something they hadn’t seen,” he said. “We’ll do that again for North Thurston, show them something they won’t have seen on game film.”