This is where things went awry a year ago for the Freeman Scotties.
Class 1A Freeman traveled to Pullman and smacked the Class 2A Greyhounds, 28-14, in the second week of the season. While the Scotties went on to win six more games to finish 7-3 and the season looked successful, the team knew better.
“We peaked after that Pullman game,” senior offensive lineman Jordan Rose said, flatly. “We went down there and won and then we just stopped getting better.”
So the players were adamant that this year, things would be different – even after the team pasted Pullman again, this time scoring a 40-14 win at home to go to 2-0 heading into their third nonleague game Friday at Bonners Ferry.
“It feels good to get that win,” said senior running back Max Laib, who ran for three touchdowns and had a fourth, off an interception, called back because of a penalty. “This year I’m looking forward to having another great game (this week) and improving off (the Pullman) game.
“Our seniors have kind of taken charge, and we’re making sure everyone is focused in on doing things one game at a time. We’re not worrying about the playoffs or any other games. We’re not worrying about any other sports because we do have players who excel at other sports. But we’ve made everyone commit to playing football this year. We’re going to win together, we’re going to work hard together, we’re going to lift weights together and we’re all going to get in the room and look at film together. We didn’t do that last year.”
Rose agrees. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive and defensive lineman anchors both sides of the ball for Freeman. He’s the only senior to start on the offense, so he took initiative.
“I made sure we were all getting into the weight room all summer long,” he said. “We’re all in there lifting at 5:45 in the morning, and we’re all there together. We did speed work together to make ourselves faster, and I think that showed against Pullman.
“I even got some of my young teammates to go with me to the Washington State University football camp, and we all got some valuable coaching there. I think our coaches here are great, but it’s good to get with college coaches because they really help to fine tune what you’re doing.”
Freeman has long had a reputation to match its mascot – a feisty program that plays bigger than its actual size. As a smaller Class 1A program, the team regularly plays against schools with significantly larger student bodies.
“There have been years when we just haven’t had the numbers,” coach Jim Wood said. “A school like a (Northeast A League rival) Medical Lake has twice the size we do. You have to be ready to compete.”
“Guys like me and Jordan and a lot of our seniors, we’ve been playing together now for about 10 years,” Laib said. “We’ve played with and against bigger kids our whole lives. Yes, we’re a Class 1A team, but we would be so happy to go over there and play a Class 4A school and I think we could hold our own.”
At his size and with his quickness, Rose would be a standout at any level.
“I love running behind Jordan,” Laib said. “I’ve been running behind him for so long, I just instinctively know what he’s going to do – where he’s going to take the guy he’s blocking. He’s so good on his feet and he just makes holes.”
“There was a play against Pullman that I just loved,” Rose said. “I had pancaked my guy and I looked up and saw Max’s back as he just took off into the open field. That felt so good to see that. I loved seeing it and I can still see it.”
Rose said he picked up some surprise attention following the Pullman game.
The Greyhounds have more than their share of college football connections. The quarterback, Mason Petrino, is the son of the University of Idaho head coach. One wide receiver is the son of Washington State legend Rueben Mayes and another youngster is the son of current Cougars athletics director Bill Moos.
“I was walking off the field and this guy runs over and taps me on the shoulder and introduces himself,” Rose said. “He said ‘Hi, I’m Bill Moos and I’m the athletic director at WSU.” I said ‘Hi, how ya doin’!’ ”
One of the most impressive aspects of Freeman’s win over Pullman was the Scotties’ ability to tackle. Not overly flashy or physical, the team just made solid, old-fashioned tackles in the open field. There were very few Greyhounds breaking tackles.
“Our big concept here is that defense wins championships,” Laib said. “We know what we have to do. We’re not about going out and making big hits. We’re about bringing the guy down. That’s all we need to do and that’s what we work on every day.”