Whenever William Benbrook cruised around Yelm this summer wearing his Tornados football jersey he got a different response than in the past.
“During my freshman and sophomore years whenever I went out with my jersey on, I wouldn’t get much of a reaction,” Benbrook said.
So what changed?
“I don’t think there was a time someone didn’t say something positive to me when I was wearing it,” Benbrook said. “People I didn’t even know would say how excited they were for the upcoming season. How they weren’t going to miss a game. It’s always great to hear that support.”
The buzz around town can be attributed to a couple things.
First, the Tornados are coming off a 5-5 record last season, their first as a member of the Narrows League 4A division. It was Yelm’s best record since 2003 and the Tornados just missed the league’s fourth and final playoff spot when they lost, 29-22, to Olympia late.
“Coming that close to getting a playoff spot really motivated us this summer,” said Benbrook, an honorable mention all-league selection on the offensive line in 2012.
Second, new head coach Jason Ronquillo, who replaces Randy Swilley after a four-year stint, has brought increased enthusiasm to the Tornados program.
Yelm graduated a solid senior class from last year’s campaign, including Jacob Swilley, the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns, leaving Ronquillo plenty of spots to fill.
Ronquillo is familiar with the scenario; he spent the last six years at the helm of Hoquiam, turning the Grizzlies around.
Last year, Ronquillo, the 2012 Southwest Washington Evergreen 1A Division coach of the year, led Hoquiam to its first outright league championship since 1979 and its third consecutive state playoff appearance.
He will now look to do the same in Yelm.
“The summer was great. I really couldn’t have asked for a better one,” Ronquillo said. “The kids are starting to understand how the system works. We still have a long ways to go and there’s certainly going to be bumps in the road, but I’ve been really happy with everything so far. It’s a great group of kids to work with.”
Leading the way will be Benbrook, who is also the school’s ASB president
“Fantastic kid,” Ronquillo said about Benbrook. “He’s the type of player you want in your program. He works hard, listens and is a leader.”
While not your prototypical offensive lineman in terms of size – Benbrook is 5-foot-10 and weighs, 215 pounds – he makes up for it with textbook technique, according to Ronquillo.
“I’m never going to be the biggest guy on the field,” said Benbrook, who joins fellow senior Nathan Mix as the returning starters on the line, “but I don’t want anyone to outwork me.”
Benbrook’s attitude has been widely adopted by the team.
The weight room is frequently filled with players and on numerous occasions the team practices 7-on-7 drills on their own.
“What really helped was going to camp at Central Washington University,” Benbrook said. “We just destroyed it as a team. That really gave us a lot of confidence.”
About the Tornados
Coach: Jason Ronquillo, first year
2012 record: 5-5, fifth in Narrows 4A
Offense: Coordinator (set) – Ronquillo (multiple); returning starters – 3
Top players: OL William Benbrook, 5-10, 210, sr.; RB/QB Quinton Buck, 5-9, 175, sr.; OL Nathan Mix, 6-0, 205, sr.;
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Todd Cordova (3-3); returning starters – 5
Top players: DL Kollin Crown, 6-3, 225, sr.; LB Aaron Rivera, 5-11, 190, sr.; LB Cody Burk, 5-10, 205, sr.; DB Victor Munoz, 5-8, 160, sr.; DB Greg Martin, 6-0, 175, sr.
Outlook: It will be a big learning curve for the inexperienced Tornados, who are learning Ronquillo’s system after the coach spent the past six years at Class 1A Hoquiam, leading the Grizzlies to three state playoff appearances. Buck, who will be a third-year starter, moves from running back to quarterback. Cordova, previously Rainier’s defensive coordinator, returns to his alma mater.
All games at 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 6 — HIGHLINE
Friday, Sept. 13 — at Olympic
Friday, Sept. 20 — STADIUM *
Friday, Sept. 27 — at Shelton
Friday, Oct. 4 — CENTRAL KITSAP *
Friday, Oct. 11 — at South Kitsap *
Friday, Oct. 18 — BELLARMINE PREP *
Friday, Oct. 25 — at Gig Harbor *
Friday, Nov. 1 — at Olympia * * Denotes Narrows League 4A game; home games in CAPS