When Mike Spears was hired as Timberline High School’s head football coach, he had a first order of business — fix the grass on the practice field.
“That’s Coach Spears’ garden — you see how green that is?” Spears said to about 130 players lining the bleachers Wednesday afternoon at the Blazers’ first practice of the season.
Spears, a 55-year-old history teacher at Nisqually Middle School, spent the offseason preparing Timberline’s field for his first season at the helm — including planting grass seed, and bringing in an irrigation specialist to replace 20 sprinklers.
“These guys don’t know it yet, but after every practice we’re going to line up on the sidelines, and we’re going to pull weeds,” Spears said. “It’s their field, give them a sense of ownership.”
A new field for a new era.
Spears was hired in June after Nick Mullen accepted a position as the school’s athletic director. Mullen was 53-31 during eight seasons as the Blazers’ coach — Spears coached under Mullen as an assistant for the past seven.
“What he expects the kids to give, he gives himself,” Mullen said. “He’s there for the kids, and he knows the different masks a coach has to wear.”
It comes from experience.
This is Spears’ first head coaching position, but he has a 30-year background as an assistant. He joined the Timberline staff in 2008, and has been defensive line coach and special teams coordinator. He also served a three-year stint at Yelm as the offensive line coach, and another eight years as the offensive coordinator at San Lorenzo High School in California.
This season, he is joined by 11 assistant coaches — six who were on the staff last season.
“I came out here the fourth day of spring practice, put the kids in the bleachers and said, ‘OK, I got the job,’ ” Spears said. “You could see all these teenagers just exhale — we know who the head coach is.”
That’s where the relief ended. The Blazers swarmed the field in 90 degree weather Wednesday to kick off the season, starting with conditioning before breaking into positional drills.
The Blazers, who finished 3-3 in the Class 4A Narrows League last season (5-5 overall), return many players this season, including four offensive starters and six on defense.
“I’m a lot luckier than other incoming coaches,” Spears said. “I don’t have to rebuild anything. (Mullen) built a great foundation, so all I’ve got to do is put the trim on the house.”
But some questions remain — mainly, who will take over at quarterback?
Spears plans to run an offense similar to Mullen — quarterback-centric, likely passing the ball 40 percent of the time. Jacob Henning, a junior, is currently the front-runner in a three-man competition to win the position.
“The quarterback’s the hub of the wheel, everything goes off him,” Spears said. “That’s why (Henning) being so smart and making good decisions propped him up a little bit.”
Henning would be new to the varsity position — last year’s starter was Gabe Gutierrez, who graduated.
“We’re both dipping our toes in the water at the same time,” Spears said.
Spears credits Henning for his accuracy and decision-making — which Henning exhibited Wednesday, pin-pointing targets during drills and scrimmage.
“I’m just smart, I know what I’m doing out there,” Henning said. “I may not have the best arm, may not have the speed or the strength, but I’ve got the brains.”
Which is what Spears is looking for. That, and high tempo and energy in practice before Timberline’s season opener against North Thurston at 7 p.m. Sept. 4.
“It’s finally here, we can finally get started,” Spears said.
Lauren Smith: 253-358-4160