Sid Otton, with his 40-plus years of coaching high school football, will be the first to tell you wins are always nice. State championships are special.
But despite Tumwater being one of the most successful programs in the state the past quarter century, the triumphs on the field pale in comparison to the relationships that are forged off the gridiron.
The Thunderbirds, in Otton’s 39-year watch, have always promoted a brotherhood among the players. It’s never been a team, but a family.
Eventually the final score becomes hazy and ultimately forgotten. Titles won as a teenager tend to lose their importance as one grows older.
It’s the relationships that endure.
With each season, Otton and his longtime assistant coaches relish the chance to see the T-Birds family grow.
And with several new faces on varsity this season, including nine new starters on offense, there will be plenty of opportunity for growth.
One relationship, however, will be special, even for someone such as Otton, who has won more high school football games than any other coach in the state.
Otton’s starting quarterback this season will be Jayden Croft – his grandson.
“If you told me 25 years ago I’d be coaching my grandson, I wouldn’t have believed you,” said Otton, who has guided Tumwater to five state championships in three classifications. “I actually didn’t think I’d be coaching this long, but it’s awesome. It keeps me young.”
As expected, Croft has bled Kelly green since birth. The junior signal-caller saw limited playing time last season as a backup, but now takes over the offense.
“It’s unreal to think about it,” Croft said about playing for his grandfather. “I would always go to the games as a little kid. I was a ballboy. Now I am the starting quarterback. I’m just glad he stuck around long enough so he could coach me.”
Both of Otton’s sons, Tim and Brad, played quarterback under him at Tumwater, each achieving notable success at the position.
Tim was also a defensive end, earning Black Hills League defensive player of the year honors in 1985 before playing at Weber State.
Brad Otten was an all-state quarterback in 1989 and went on the play for the University of Southern California.
“(Jayden’s) play reminds me quite a bit of Brad,” Otton said. “When I watch Jayden, I see a lot of Brad in his game.”
Should Croft resemble Uncle Brad this season, there’s a reason besides genetics. Croft spent time in Los Angeles with his uncle earlier this month, constantly picking the former T-Birds standout’s brain on how to improve his skill set.
“We worked a lot on throwing techniques,” Croft said. “He just taught me a lot about being a better quarterback.”
Few would be a better resource than Brad Otton in regard to being a successful quarterback in Tumwater’s wing-T offense. The younger Otton son led the T-Birds to a 13-0 record and a Class 3A state championship during his senior season in 1989, tossing a school-record 29 touchdown passes with four interceptions.
At USC, Brad Otton threw for 391 yards and two touchdowns in the Trojans’ 1996 Rose Bowl victory over Northwestern and set the NCAA record for most pass attempts without an interception to start a career (202) . That was broken in 2008 by Baylor’s Robert Griffin III.
“The biggest thing he taught me was how important it is to play with confidence,” Croft said. “When you step out onto the field as the quarterback, you need to lead the offense, be confident in what you are doing and not over-think everything. It’s been great learning from him.”
With running back Andrew Brown and lineman Jaimie Bryant the only returning starters on offense, Croft’s leadership will be called upon early for the T-Birds – something his grandfather thinks he can excel at.
“I think he has the potential to develop into a very good quarterback,” Otton said. “He’s a very smart kid, makes good decisions. It’s just been a lot of fun coaching him.”
Home games in CAPS. All games at 7 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 31: at Shelton
Friday, Sept. 7: TIMBERLINE
Friday, Sept. 14: INGLEMOOR
Saturday, Sept. 22: at Capital *
Friday, Sept. 28: W.F. WEST *
Friday. Oct. 5: at North Thurston
Friday, Oct. 12: CENTRALIA *
Friday, Oct. 19: at River Ridge *
Friday, Oct. 26: BLACK HILLS * About the THUNDERBIRDS
Coach: Sid Otton, 39th year.
2011 record: 7-2, 1st in league; lost in 2A first round.
Offense: Coordinator (set) - Jamie Weeks (wing-T). Returning starters - 3. Top players - RB Andrew Brown, 6-1, 175, sr.; OL Jaimie Bryant, 6-5, 260, sr.; QB Jayden Croft, 6-0, 180, jr.; OL Hunter Saner, 6-1, 240, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) - Pat Alexander (4-3). Returning starters - 1. Top players - DL Jaimie Bryant, 6-5, 260, sr.; LB David Durden, 6-0, 180, sr.; DL Jose Jimenez, 6-3, 230, sr.
Outlook: A relatively inexperienced team will be thrown into the fire immediately in nonleague contests against 3A and 4A schools. Otton considers this the toughest schedule the Thunderbirds have had since their days in the 4A Greater St. Helens League (1993-96). Bryant, a University of Washington commit, is the only starter from the 2010 state title-winning squad.