After winning a league title for the first time in 27 years, the Eastmont Wildcats football team will have to turn to some relatively fresh faces if it hopes to repeat as Big Nine champions.
Fortunately for head coach Doug McGill, the ’Cats have a solid blend of size and speed to try to fill the large void left by the graduating class of 2012.
Eastmont has eight juniors who will have to thrive under high expectations — while meshing with the returning senior leaders — if the team hopes to repeat as Big Nine champs. Head coach Doug McGill said that will require patience despite a steep learning curve.
“We have a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot of varsity, and they have high expectations,” McGill said. “You have to be able to flush a bad play and then flush a great play because the next play is happening regardless. One play at a time is the world’s oldest cliché, but it’s so accurate.”
If you are a fan of the Wildcats, get acquainted with the names of Eli Brewer, Anthony Reyes, Killion McGinnis, Abi Espinoza, Phillip Moore, Chandler Shaw, Griffey Halle and Alex Hardgrove — although you might already be familiar with the Hardgrove name from his older brother, who played a significant part with the graduating class that the players say left a huge impact.
“We had great leadership last year,” McGinnis said. “We’re not losing all of that leadership. But last year you had enough people that were role models and would keep you focused and all that stuff. I think that taught the younger kids like us how to do that and show the kids below us.”
The potential for young talent to become arrogant is typically great. But this group seems too focused on instilling the lessons learned from the most successful Eastmont team under McGill’s leadership.
“We learned so much. One of them was my brother and he was awesome,” Hardgrove said about his well-lauded older brother Darin. “He always liked to go up to me and motivate me and stuff. It made me think it’s going to be weird not having my brother (around). But I just want to learn from what he did and apply it to this team.”
For a young group, this team seems nearly obsessed with working together as a collective and eschewing a me-first attitude.
“Here at Eastmont, we have people putting in time after practice, before practice. No one wants to stop. We just want to keep on getting better as a group,” McGinnis said.
But as the players want to get better as a team, McGill said they all will bring something substantial individually to the table.
Brewer played on the varsity team as a sophomore and will be a big man who will be effective in the trenches on both sides of the ball. McGill also said that he has a pretty good shot at being an all-league selection.
“Eli is very agile for a big kid,” McGill said. “He’s a kid that is a real good pass rusher, he’s got good quickness with good strength.”
Reyes will be expected to have a “more dominant role” this year after being a role player last year.
“(Reyes) really showed well this year at camp at running back and linebacker for us,” the Eastmont coach said. “He’s going to be a kid that we’re going to get a lot out of this year if we want to compete to be at the top.”
When asked if Reyes will be the punishing back in contrast to senior Brian Burt’s speedy attack-style, McGill said, “Thinking ahead, that’s where you think he would be. He showed some real bursts while running the ball tough between the tackles.”
McGinnis could be the starting quarterback, but is still in competition with senior Carter Haehl for that spot. McGill says the junior could receive postseason recognition “regardless of where he ends up playing” — whether as the QB or as a wide receiver and defensive back.
“He’s the kind of kid that can make something happen when things break down,” the coach said. “He’s continuing to work on his game; he’s worked hard this summer. He’s got a lot of real natural ability. Now we just need to polish it a little more.”
Espinoza is described as a great soccer player who also has a wealth of talent on the football field — especially on the defensive end.
“He ain’t afraid to stick his nose in there — very tough kid,” McGill said. “He’s a hard-running kid. He played really well at safety for us.”
Moore transferred from Wenatchee and said he is loving the change of scenery. He said the team-oriented attitude at Eastmont feels like the right atmosphere for him, and his new coach says the lanky wide receiver is fitting in very well.
“Philip has been a real pleasant surprise,” McGill said. “He’s a real athletic kid who is blessed with a lot of speed and good instincts. He isn’t scared of hard work.”
Shaw will be called upon to contribute on the offensive and defensive lines. Shaw has an abundance of size but is light on his feet. McGill hopes he can rebound for an injury-filled sophomore season by providing a solid share of pancakes and tackles.
“Chandler has really decided that he wants to be a better football player,” McGill said. “He’s been committing himself in the weight room and we’re all excited for him.”
Halle was a player who caught the coaches’ eyes at the Wenatchee Football Team Camp this summer.
“Griffey is another guy who just can’t get enough of it,” McGill said. “Griffey is going to be somebody. I know he’ll play defense for us; he’s a hard hitter and he also has a good set of hands.”
Hardgrove is hoping to blaze his own path and establish himself as an invaluable part of Eastmont’s attempt at repeating as league champs.
“He’s very tenacious, tough and he’s got a good nose for the football,” McGill said.
But the key to this team won’t lie within the individual accomplishments, according to everyone involved. It will come from a shared effort and undeterred desire to succeed as Wildcats, and after practice McGill has stressed that anyone can be a leader.
“To me, leadership is character and doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s being a good teammate and encouraging your teammate. It’s making your teammate better by not taking it easy on him.”
Luckily for the ’Cats, for what the young guys lack in experience they make up for in tangibles.
“You can’t teach speed or size,” McGill said. “It’s an athletic bunch. Now we just have to make them athletic and smart football players, and we’ll have a chance to have some good football players.”