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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Multifaceted Northwest Christian football on brink of undefeated season, state playoffs

Northwest Christian coach Marshall Hart, center, stands with Ryan Waters, left, and quarterback Titus Spuler during practice Wednesday at the school in Colbert.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

In the COVID-shortened spring 2020 football season, when the members of this year’s senior class were freshmen, Northwest Christian’s varsity team finished 0-5.

But the junior varsity team finished 5-0, and the seeds that were planted there have blossomed this fall into a state-contending team.

After last week’s 76-0 nonleague win over Tonasket, the Crusaders are 7-0 and ranked in the top three in the state media poll and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s RPI.

“When I took over (four years ago), we played that first game against (Lind-Ritzville/Sprague). And when the game was over, I was pretty frustrated,” NWC coach Marshall Hart said. “One of the dads said, ‘Hey, I’m telling you when these freshmen are seniors, just wait. It’s gonna all come around.’ And they were absolutely right.”

Due to low turnout during the COVID season, Hart was forced to use some freshmen on the varsity to have backups in uniform. But when they could play as a team a level down, there was promise.

“This group was able to start as freshmen on JV and be very good,” Hart said. “They were able to learn and work together and do it in an environment where they weren’t just physically outmatched.”

Two of those players, seniors Titus Spuler and Ryan Waters, are key cogs in the Crusaders’ program. Spuler threw five touchdown passes and ran for another last week, and Waters scored on a rush, catch and kickoff return.

“They’re kind of yin and yang for us in some ways,” Hart said. “Titus is really positive and he really thinks things through. And Ryan’s really our juice. Ryan’s passion.”

Hart elaborated on what each player brings to the squad.

“Titus is the consummate coach’s son,” Hart said. “He’s extremely intelligent. He does what he needs to do. He’s very selfless.

“(Waters) is just gritty. Whatever needs to get done, he’ll do it. He sticks his nose in at safety. He flies around, lights people up. On offense, he’s versatile. He’s a receiver for us. He’s a running back for us. Really, whatever we need that week, he does it for us.”

Most seniors on the team have played together since first grade. Hart said that breeds a closeness that can’t be coached.

“My favorite thing to watch on film is people running to the end zone after somebody scores,” Hart said. “We don’t want to ever brag in somebody else’s face or be a bad example, but we really want to celebrate each other and just kind of share that joy.”

“Everybody is always so hyped for their teammate,” Spuler said. “We’re really a team. And we really work to get everyone involved and want everyone to do well.”

The success has filtered through school. A couple of new additions to the group, senior Asher West and junior Avi West, came out for football for the first time after leading the basketball team to a state quarterfinal last season.

“They’ve done a phenomenal job,” Hart said. “They’re great, great, just infectious kind of guys.”

“It’s been really nice having some depth this year and having people able to sub in,” Waters said. “The past two years, we’ve had literally no one behind us and we’ve just been every play. But this year we’ve got dudes everywhere that can just step in.”

Add in potential Division I kicker Jacob Bell and it’s a well-balanced, multifaceted team – especially for the 2B classification.

The Crusaders been on an impressive run through the Northeast 2B. The season started with a shutout of Chewelah, then a Week 3 nonleague win over one-loss River View of Kennewick.

The big showdown came in Week 5, with a 30-0 road win over LRS, which started the season ranked No. 3 in the state media poll – a position now owned by NWC.

“It was just a really great team win,” Spuler said. “We really came together as a team and just everyone executed really well. It really pushed us into this next half of our schedule and just helped us to build momentum.”

“LRS has kind of been a monkey to get off our back for a couple years,” Hart said. “They’re just so good. And so well coached … they’re tough, especially to win in Ritzville is something else. It was really awesome for us to kind of get through that hurdle.”

Hart, 29, brings a wealth of knowledge to the job and has surrounded himself with a varied and experienced set of assistant coaches. Hart spent several seasons as a coach in the Indoor Football League and was the offensive line coach for the most recent edition of the Spokane Shock. His players know Hart speaks from a professional point of view.

“I get to meet a bunch of really successful football players and get to bring a lot of those values back to (his team),” he said. “I had offensive linemen that played at LSU and Alabama and it’s like, ‘Well guys, let’s work together on this.’ (Former Shock) Coach (Adam) Shackleford is such a huge influence for me and he’s awesome to be around and I’m really blessed that he helps me out a lot now, too.”

Former Shock players Willie Hibbler and Sawyer Petre have contributed to Hart’s effort at NWC.

“It’s really cool to have these (coaches) that some of these guys really look up to,” Hart said. “They can really pour into them and talk to them and have real advice for them and have a real impact on them.”

“(Hart) just understands the game,” Waters said. “And he’s got a lot of coaches that he’s brought in that really know and love the game, too.”

There are two regular-season games remaining, against Colfax (tied for sixth place) and Kettle Falls (eighth place), before a crossover game for state. Undefeated Okanogan and one-loss Napavine, among others, may await.

“We’ve got a lot of physical teams in this (classification) and it’s gonna be real tough down the road,” Waters said. “There’s gonna be a lot of tough teams in the playoffs, but I think we’re ready.”