Spend enough time around the Tumwater High School football program and the theme of togetherness becomes a constant.
Unity is a quality the Thunderbirds thrive on as they’ve won all 13 games this season heading into Saturday morning’s Class 2A state championship against Prosser at the Tacoma Dome.
Not to say there isn’t just enough difference between units to spice things up.
“The offense is like the Air Force, we’re like the Marines,” joked Pat Alexander, Tumwater’s defensive coordinator for the past 40 years. “Sid (Otton, the T-Birds’ head coach) is a very calm, calculating problem solver. So are the other offensive coaches, but we four defensive guys do a lot of yelling, a lot of cheerleading.”
What Alexander, defensive line coaches Rick McGrath and Tim Otton, along with defensive backfield coach Steve Shoun, do works.
Though Alexander says “there are no stars on defense,” Tumwater held four opponents to six points or fewer and all 13 foes to an average of 12.5 points per game. The T-Birds forced 27 takeaways and have a plus-11 turnover margin, including a game-saving fumble recovery by Devon Shedd-Kirkland during last weekend’s semifinal win against Archbishop Murphy.
Direction from the top and from the next man over are key, said Shedd-Kirkland.
“We have a great coaching staff. Our defense works really hard, not messing around or goofing off,” the senior defensive end said. “We talk all the time and we are like a family. We can talk to anybody if there are any problems. We can coach each other up without arguing.”
Defense has been paramount throughout Sid Otton’s 42 years at Tumwater, says Alexander, a part of the staff for all but two of those seasons.
We always play as one. We get in a groove with each other and make big plays. We don’t really talk about it, we just do it.
Jacob Crawford, Tumwater senior cornerback
“It’s part of his belief that you have to have a sound defense to win championships,” said Alexander, who looks for an aggressive mindset in defensive players.
While occasionally, a player such as this season’s leading tackler Cade Otton, who also plays tight end, will start on both sides of the ball, it’s become less common.
“To be honest, a lot of times, a real good athlete on offense doesn’t have the mentality for playing defense,” Alexander said.
Jacob Crawford, a senior cornerback who also plays wide receiver on offense, sees the difference.
“The defense gets after it more while the offensive side goes at a different tempo,” he said. “Defense likes to go fast all the time, offense likes to get in a groove and then they start getting after it.”
Tumwater has allowed 12.5 points per game this season while going 13-0.
“We strike first, the offense sits back a bit and waits to react,” he said.
While Alexander portrayed his defensive staff as louder and more emotional than Tumwater’s offensive coaches, they do have a deliberate side. Goals are set and results measured.
“Each one of us sets up our own personal goal card before each game,” Crawford said. “We put it on the back of the chair we sit on after each series. We set team goals as a defense and individual goals as well.”
70 Touchdowns scored in 13 games by Prosser, which will play Tumwater in the Class 2A state title game.
Facing a Prosser team that has scored 70 touchdowns this season on 3,058 passing and 2,052 rushing yards, the Tumwater defense will be tested Saturday, but Crawford believes the T-Birds will be ready.
“We always play as one. We get in a groove with each other and make big plays,” he said. “We don’t really talk about it, we just do it.”
At the Tacoma Dome
Class 1B: Almira/Coulee-Hartline (12-1) vs. Lummi (9-2), 4 p.m.
Class 3A: Eastside Catholic (12-0) vs. Bellevue (11-1), 7:30 p.m.
Class 2A: Prosser (12-1) vs. Tumwater (13-0), 10 a.m.
Class 1A: Royal (13-0) vs. King’s (12-1), 1 p.m.
Class 2B: Okanogan (12-1) vs. Napavine (11-2), 4 p.m.
Class 4A: Gonzaga Prep (13-0) vs. Skyline (12-1), 7:30 p.m.