Spring football fever

Washougal wants to build on first playoff experience in nine years

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Nathan Tofell bursts through the battle lines of Panthers and Plainsmen to score a touchdown for Washougal in a scrimmage game against Evergreen Tuesday, at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver.

Washougal High School football players and coaches have experienced both sides of the spectrum this spring.

The weather has been sunny one day — and then windy and rainy the next — but an estimated 60 Panthers keep working.

“October weather in June,” said head coach Dave Hajek. “I should tell my kids we’re just getting used to playoff weather.”

Hajek and company can say that after Washougal made it to the district crossover game for the first time in nine years.

“You got to a point where everyone wants to get to,” Hajek said. “A season is like climbing a ladder. You got one rung after tne other, and you’re hoping to get to the top of that ladder.”

Hajek added that Washougal made it halfway up the ladder last season, with a 5-5 record.

“We’d like to get to that top rung,” he said. “Right now, there’s a couple teams that have been to the top. That’s where we’re trying to get to.”

The players hark back to last season, when Washougal beat Woodland and R.A. Long in back-to-back rainy games at home. Both of those wins helped the Panthers end their long playoff drought.

“It was a good step forward,” said quarterback Ryan Stevens. “This year, our goal is to win league and then make it even further than the first round of the playoffs.”

And just to sweeten the pot, the team that wins the league title gets to host a playoff game.

“That would be awesome,” Stevens said. “I love playing football for this town. Knowing that it’s my last year with my friends; we all want to win more than anything.”

Which is why spring football is vital to getting every single Panther on the same page.

“It’s all about getting the rust off, and then getting ready for summer ball,” Stevens said. “Hopefully by the time fall comes, you’re not trying to learn everything at once. You’re already ready to go.”

Hajek doesn’t have a problem with this group, especially when it comes to committment and hard work.

“In years past, it was tough to get guys in the weight room, and tough to get guys out for spring and wanting to commit,” Hajek said. “I don’t have to ask these guys. They’re really good at motivating each other.

“We can still get better,” he added. “We still have some things we can improve upon as a program, but I honestly feel like we are moving in the right direction with what’s coming.”

On Monday, Washougal heads to a football camp at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon. Hajek said the Panthers and 13 other schools will compete in non-stop scrimmages.

“It’s going to be something that we need,” Hajek added. “We need to face a variety of teams and work on becoming more physical.”

Stevens said the time is now for the Panthers to create a storm. For the seniors to be, there’s no turning back.

“Just keep coming out for spring ball,” Stevens urged. “And then in the summer, just be here as much as possible and lift as much as possible.”