A Panther family that keeps growing

Washougal football team hopes to build on first playoff appearance in seven years

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Grant Lewis leaps up to catch the football for Washougal during practice Tuesday, at Fishback Stadium.

As Washougal welcomes more football players into the family this fall, the time has come for the Panthers to take another step forward.

Seniors Kade Coons, Grant Lewis, Jackson Lindell, Ryan Stevens and Nathan Tofell have been playing this game together since their days in Clark County Youth Football.

“We all have the smarts for it,” Lindell said. “It’s not like we’re just here to play football — we know football. We love the game.”

“I just know I can rely on my teammates. I’ve been relying on them since I was in sixth grade,” he added. “We hang out all the time. Our bond is unbreakable. Like brothers.”

Hometown fans will get their first look at the team during the Black and Orange scrimmage Friday, at Fishback Stadium. The gates open at 4 p.m., and the game starts at 6 p.m. There will be food, drinks and Panther apparel on sale.

Washougal turned its season around in the nick of time in 2016. After starting out 0-3, the Panthers defeated Mark Morris on a fumbled snap in the end zone. Washougal also came from behind to beat Ridgefield in the homecoming game.

Although they lost to Hockinson on the road, the Panthers beat Woodland, R.A. Long and Rainier in the last three weeks to reach the playoffs for the first time in seven years.

Tumwater overwhelmed Washougal in the first round, but the Panthers still made a big breakthrough.

Head coach Dave Hajek hopes for continuation in 2017. Not a setback or a restart.

“We won five of our last seven games. I’m hoping we can carry that momentum we built at the end of last year into the beginning of this season,” Hajek said. “Right now, our goal is to get to the playoffs like everyone else and try to have a home playoff game.”

“It hasn’t happened in forever, seems like,” Hajek added. “That would be a step in the right direction for us — be first or second in league and have a home playoff game.”

Lindell could be the missing link after missing most of last season with an injury. His physicality and desire is on display. His words of encouragement are heard across the field.

“I was hurt last season by the third game,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of energy to play this season.”

Hajek said Lindell brings stability and leadership to the offensive line.

“He was injured half the season last year, and he’s out here fired up and ready to go,” Hajek said. “Adding him back to the offensive line is exciting. We have a lot more experience on our o-line than we’d had in the past, which means we should be able to do more offensively.”

Lindell and his teammates have taken their lumps in the past. To be a part of this Panther football family is to perservere. It makes the success all the more sweeter.

“You don’t want to give up. You want to just keep working,” Lindell said. “If you fail, you just keep working at it until you get better at it.

“I don’t like to sweat, but it feels good to work hard,” he added. “At the end of the day, you feel good when you go to bed.”