Timberline High School football coach Nick Mullen never played quarterback, but he knows what one looks like.
He played running back and linebacker at Bethel, and eventually coached there with Eric Kurle, who now heads up Graham-Kapowsin’s program, which has produced Washington Huskies-bound quarterback Dylan Morris.
As a nose guard at Puget Sound, Mullen defended against one of Central Washington’s best quarterbacks ever — Jon Kitna — and later coached alongside another in Beau Baldwin.
Kitna went on to play in the NFL, and later become a high school coach. Baldwin became the coach at Central Washington and Eastern Washington, and is currently the offensive coordinator at Cal.
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Mullen followed Baldwin’s career, and his advice, when it came to developing quarterbacks.
In 2017, freshly back at the helm after stepping away from coaching for two years to acclimate to his new duties as the Blazers’ athletic director, Mullen thought his team could do better at quarterback, despite a season-opening win over Bonney Lake.
That’s when Hunter Campau, who is The Olympian’s All-Area football player of the year, took over as the leader in Timberline’s backfield.
Mullen received a text from Campau, who once quarterbacked the Blazers’ freshman team, and was slated to play slot receiver on the varsity team as a junior.
“Coach, you know I can lead this team, right?”
Campau had confidence. He just wanted a chance.
“I like being the guy who takes control,” Campau said. “I like bringing my team far beyond what people expect.”
Mullen started Campau against Capital in the second week of his junior season, in the Blazers’ Class 3A South Sound Conference opener. Relying primarily on running backs Michael Barnes and Lonnie Anderson, and Campau’s scrambling ability, Timberline rolled to a 30-13 win.
“When I couldn’t get a pass away and I saw green grass, I ran for it,” Campau said that night.
Mullen knew he made a wise choice, but immediately identified an area for improvement, saying, “Hunter needs to just stay back on his heels and let it rip more often.”
Looking back, Campau remembers the good and the bad.
“I felt I kept everybody composed really well. It was a league opener against one of our rivals,” he said. “But, it was also probably the worst game I ever played, as far as reads and trusting my teammates.”
From the next day’s film session forward, Mullen and Campau embarked an intense improvement process that resulted in a 3A SSC championship Campau’s junior season, back-to-back appearances in the 3A state quarterfinals the past two years, and an overall record of 19-4 in games the 5-foot-8, 170-pound quarterback started.
This season, Campau put together what statistically may be the best season ever by a Timberline quarterback, completing 108 of 175 passes for 1,487 yards, and rushing 240 times for 1,381 yards. He scored 35 total touchdowns.
Yelm coach Jason Ronquillo’s own quarterback, Kyle Robinson, is another Olympian All-Area selection, but Ronquillo sees the value Campau had on Timberline’s offense.
“He was unpredictable, and tough as nails,” Ronquillo said. “He would take a hit and keep on ticking. You needed to defend the entire field as long as the ball was still in his hands.”
Tumwater coach Bill Beattie, whose T-Birds opened the nonleague season with a win over Timberline, was also impressed.
“Hunter’s the complete package,” Beattie said. “You must defend his passing skills, and yet stop him from running the ball. He’s very poised and experienced. He makes the right decisions at the right time.”
When Mullen named Campau the Blazers’ starter, Campau had little experience. His coach hadn’t had the chance to work with him before his junior season, having taken time away from coaching to focus on his new role as Timberline’s athletic director.
But the pair made up for lost time, working on Campau’s reads, his footwork, and his ability to move within the pocket without giving in to the urge to scramble too early.
“We didn’t spend a lot of time throwing,” Mullen said. “For me the most important thing for a quarterback is footwork, squaring his shoulders, learning to step up in the pocket. As far as reading defenses, he started out too fast. He needed to learn what to look, at and what to look for.
“He always wants to have the ball in his hands — to make a big play. He started to understand when to keep the ball and when to give it up.”
After the 2017 football season, Campau played basketball, helping the Blazers to a fourth-place finish in the 3A state tournament in the Tacoma Dome. But, he still devoted a big chunk of time to football.
“I talked to the football coaches every single day,” he said. “After basketball practice, I’d get our wide receivers together and throw routes. It was challenging, but if you want it, you’ve got to go get it.”
Mullen is as impressed watching Campau play basketball as he is coaching him in football.
“He sees things so fast, his feet are so quick,” Mullen said. “He’s sees things opening up before it happens.”
As the 2018 football season unfolded, Campau’s improvements were clear. With added growth and weight room work, he could run through defenders who brought him down with arm tackles in previous seasons. And, his execution on Timberline’s play-action and rollout plays was better.
Campau intends to play in college, and has an offer from Simon Fraser, but as a slot receiver. Some Division III schools have shown interest in Campau at quarterback.
“My best chance to contribute and be successful in college is going to be in the slot,” he said. Though, he hasn’t yet ruled out playing basketball in college, either, and is unsure when he’ll make his decision.
Mullen is sure, though, that he has seen one of the best quarterbacks he’s likely to have at Timberline.
“Overall, Hunter exceeded anything I thought he would do,” Mullen said. “I never had a quarterback run and pass for more than 1,300 yards each, and didn’t think I would.”