The gridiron heats up in this weather, but football players and coaches in Camas and Washougal feel right at home under the sun.
The first game of the season is in eight days. The Panthers and Papermakers are counting down the hours, minutes and seconds to that opening kickoff at home.
“Oh, I can’t wait,” said Camas senior linebacker Michael Matthews. “I’ve been looking at pictures from last season. I’ve been watching film like crazy like everybody else has. I get goose bumps at night again just thinking about it. It’s that time of the year again. It’s the best time.”
More than 100 Camas football players are on a mission to make themselves better every single day. About 40 of those Papermakers are seniors. In that type of a competitive environment, Matthews realizes how important it is to be a leader and a motivator for the younger players in the program.
“All the older guys were really nice to me when I was that younger kid. It goes a long ways. It makes you want to stay in the program,” Matthews said. “I think that’s a big reason why we have so many seniors in this program. Those older guys were so nice to us and so encouraging. We saw what they did; we can do it too. If we keep passing that down, it will just keep growing.”
Washougal is up to about 65 players this fall. Head coach Dave Hajek said 47 Panthers came out for spring football camp. He also saw a higher percentage of players on campus during the summer lifting weights and working on conditioning.
“I think we’re on the right track to have some success this year,” Hajek said. “We talked about setting a tone. It’s not really about any one individual, it’s about the team. These kids have bought into the whole idea that I may or may not be a starter, I may or may not get so much playing time, but I’m going to do everything I can to help this team be successful.”
Washougal senior defensive back Tyler Bowlin doesn’t mind the hot weather because he missed football so much. He thanks the coaches for being a driving force for the team.
“When we’re down, they light a fire. They’re making sure we’re working hard.” Bowlin said. “Everybody’s got a clean slate. Nobody’s got their position. Nobody’s got anything. It’s nice to have everybody working for what they want.”
The Panthers and Papermakers are going through two practice sessions a day to get ready for their home openers. Washougal welcomes North Seattle to town Friday, Sept. 2. The game starts at 7 p.m., at Fishback Stadium.
“Doubles are set up so that you not only get more practice time, but there’s also some adversity as far as being tired. Coaches are tired, kids are tired and you just keep working to get better,” Hajek said. “No matter what the sporting event, at some point you get tired. The teams that pull out the wins and the teams that are more successful long term are the teams that have learned how to keep playing harder when they’re tired.”
Camas hosts Central Catholic, of Portland, Oregon, Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m., at Doc Harris Stadium. The Papermakers also have road games to Yakima, Sept. 16, and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, Sept. 23.
“We love playing big games,” said head coach Jon Eagle. “It creates buzz in our community. I think it motivates players to train harder in the offseason.
“We’re playing top 5 teams in whatever state we’re playing. That should be fun.”