Dylan Paine rarely missed a Tumwater High School football game growing up.
He became a mainstay in the stands on Friday nights after his family moved back to the area from Idaho.
He would watch speedy and powerful running back Christian Cummings, a former Olympian All-Area player of the year, who went on to play at Central Washington University. And he marveled at players like Easton Trakel, who dazzled in Tumwater’s backfield before joining Portland State as a wide receiver.
“Every game I could, I’d come out and watch,” he said. “It was cool watching them when I was a kid, and now I’m where they were.”
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Long a faithful fan, the sophomore fullback has quickly become a standout for the T-Birds in his first season playing varsity. He’s rushed for 1,392 yards and 23 touchdowns on 221 carries as Tumwater’s workhorse.
Entering this week’s Class 2A state quarterfinals, Paine leads the lower South Sound in rushing by more than 200 yards.
“He’s had a great season,” Tumwater senior lineman Cy Hicks said. “One thing that has separated him is his work ethic.
“He was always in the weight room for summer trainings and he always takes practice seriously. He’s a good, tough player.”
Tumwater coach Bill Beattie said, while Paine is young, his ability and maturity on the field resemble an upperclassman. Paine caught Beattie’s eye this summer.
“He really worked his tail off in the offseason,” Beattie said. “When we went over to camp this summer (at Central), we were experimenting, and he just stepped up.
“You could tell he wanted the job.”
Paine, 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, has made a strong case for keeping it. He’s averaging nearly 127 yards per game.
“He’s pretty powerful,” Hicks said. “When somebody’s pulling he can hide behind them, but he also has the strength to push them.
“He can read the holes well, and he knows how to manipulate the field to score.”
Paine drew attention from opposing coaches early on in the season. W.F. West coach Bob Wollan said the more film he watched, the more Paine’s speed and consistency showed.
“He has great vision, he’s explosive and he doesn’t seem to go down on the first hit,” Wollan said. “He’s just turned into a heck of a back.”
Paine’s early success has opened avenues for other players, Beattie said. Jakob Holbrook, Connor Clark and Zane Murphy have each added more than 500 rushing yards for the T-Birds.
“It’s allowed us to do a lot more,” Beattie said.
And that has created a big dilemma for opposing defenses, Wollan says.
Paine looks to continue his success Friday night at Harry E. Lang Stadium in Lakewood, where the second-ranked T-Birds (9-2) will meet Steilacoom (9-2) for the second time this season.
“Our line blocked great. I think our fakes were good, too,” Paine said of Tumwater’s 48-12 win back in September.
“A lot of that deceptiveness kind of threw them off, I think. Once we got the runs going outside, then we just pounded the middle and it worked.”
Paine rushed for a game-high 178 yards and three touchdowns during that first meeting. Neither program has lost since. A win would earn a spot in the semifinals.
And, it could set up another meeting with top-ranked Archbishop Murphy, which knocked the T-Birds out in last year’s quarterfinals.
Paine was one of three freshmen standing on the sideline during that game. He remembers how much he wanted to play.
He had the same feeling two years ago as an eighth-grader, when he watched Tumwater play, and eventually lose a heartbreaker to Prosser at the Tacoma Dome in the state title game.
“I wanted to be in that game so badly as an eighth-grader,” he said. “You just want to do something to help the team out.”
Now, Paine is in position to help lead the T-Birds back there.
“He runs hard, he listens, he doesn’t everything you want,” Beattie said. “That’s why he’s at where he’s at right now.”