QUINCY — When Stephen Wallace left his job as the Bridgeport football team’s head coach four years ago to accept the same position at Quincy, his decision was met with a healthy amount of skepticism.
Wallace had turned a perennially downtrodden Mustangs program into a respectable outfit during his four years there, but Wallace was enticed by the proposition of taking over a Quincy squad that won a total of two games over the previous two seasons.
“When I left Bridgeport, my assistant coaches were blown away,” Wallace recalled. “They said, ‘You’re going to leave something that you’ve built up in order to get destroyed by Prosser (and other Central Washington Athletic Conference powers)?’
“But for myself and my family, (going to Quincy) was the perfect situation.”
The Jackrabbits improved their win total during Wallace’s first three years, although they still weren’t able to contend for a playoff spot in a competitive CWAC. Thanks to Washington Interscholastic Activities Association re-classification, the Jackrabbits moved back down to the 1A Caribou Trail League for the 2012 season, but regardless of leagues, Wallace knew that his team was poised for a breakthrough.
Sure enough, Quincy overcame an 0-3 start to finish third in the CTL, buoyed by a dominating defense that didn’t allow a touchdown in its first six league contests; won a state qualifier game two weeks ago; and beat Zillah last Friday to advance to a Saturday quarterfinal match-up with River View.
“At the start of the year, the kids were probably a little overconfident,” Wallace said. “(The losses) were a humbling experience. The kids started hearing from outside influences a little bit, but we felt good about sticking to the plan. We didn’t want to make wholesale changes; instead, we wanted to fix the problems and perfect what we’ve already established, and obviously it’s paid off.”
Why has Quincy improved so much during the past four years? The answer is simple, really — player turnout. In 2008, the season before Wallace arrived, Quincy finished the year with 17 players, an unfathomably low number for a CWAC squad. In Wallace’s first campaign, the number swelled to 43. In 2010, it pushed up into the low 50s. Last season, the Jackrabbits had 63 players; for this year, 87.
“I do what I can to build an atmosphere that kids want to be around. I think we play a fun style of football that kids want to be a part of,” Wallace said. “But the kids are talking to their buddies, recruiting, trying to get them to come out.”
Another key to the program’s turnaround has been the players’ dedication to offseason workouts. Senior linebacker Armando Tafoya recalled that before his freshman campaign, virtually no players participated in summer strength training programs.
“Then the next year it was 10 (players working out), and then the next year it was 20, and this summer it was practically the whole team,” he said. “Coach Wallace took time out of his summer to open the weight room and get players in there. It made the team better, and really helped with team bonding.”
According to senior quarterback Jacob Durfee, Wallace’s impact on the program has been immense.
“You can see it in our record, in the numbers,” he said. “He’s gained our trust and respect. He knows what to do, and he knows our strengths and weaknesses.”
All season long, Wallace, inspired by a speech made by a motivational speaker at a team camp in Ellensburg last summer, has stressed what he calls a ‘business-like attitude’ to his players; he doesn’t want them getting too excited during big moments, and he doesn’t want them getting discouraged when they make mistakes.
That attitude helped the team immensely after it started this season with three straight losses. At that point, the coaches made several personnel changes that helped to make the team’s defensive front seven smaller and quicker, and the players began to take personal responsibility for their actions and believe in a team-first mentality.
“We changed,” said Tafoya, who has recorded 116 tackles this season and earned first-team all-CTL honors. “We’re not pointing fingers (at each other) after wins or losses. We’re all in this together. We don’t get too (emotional); we know we have a job to do, and we do it to the fullest of our capabilities. If things don’t go your way, throw it away and do it the next day. We’re creating opportunities for ourselves and for each other; one of our main slogans has been, ‘Trust your buddy.’ ”
That statement in and of itself is a bold indicator of just how far the program has come in the last four years. Wallace has always believed that Quincy football could return to the prosperity it enjoyed in the later 1990s and early 2000s. Now the players are believing as well.