Andy Bartell took the perfect coaching job last spring. Turns out, he had the perfect player waiting to be a senior leader in his first year.
Bartell was the offensive line coach last year at Bethel High School, but when Terry Shaw left Rainier after six seasons to take over at North Thurston, he wanted to coach the team closest to his house.
After growing up in Yelm and Roy, Bartell moved to Rainier with his family five years ago.
“It’s a job I’ve had my eyes on ever since,” he said. “Down the road, it would be great to be able to coach my two sons, Gauge and Zander.”
The Mountaineers graduated productive players such as Zach Lofgren, a do-everything quarterback and all-area defensive back who is now playing baseball at Wenatchee Valley CC, and Cole Reise. The line lost Easton Holmes, Trenton Galbraith and Travis Honaker.
But the key to another strong start remained.
Brody Klein is a four-year letterman for Rainier. He averaged 10 yards per rushing attempt and 30 yards per pass reception in 2018 and led the team defensively with nearly seven tackles per game. His teammates, particularly the younger ones, have noticed Klein’s willingness to both take and deliver hits.
“My wife, Katie, runs our study halls. One day she asked the kids to write down a person they looked up to,” Bartell said. More than half of the 36-man roster chose Klein.
“I’m a senior. I’m that guy right now,” said Klein, who has accepted the leader’s mantle on a squad with 11 freshmen and 10 sophomores. “My teammates are all on the same page, but I’ve got to show them there are no shortcuts.”
Small-town football has shown Bartell a level of buy-in not always present at powerhouse 3A and 4A schools.
“If you’ve got a team loaded with D1 prospects, some of them are going to have an attitude like ‘I don’t need to do this stupid drill,” he said. “The nice thing here is the work ethic Brody displays and how it carries from him down to freshmen who are never going to get on the field.”
In addition to Klein, Rainier has four other seniors: receivers Colby Davis and Tristan Roosa, linemen Shawn Lupine and Florenzio Lugo.
“We’ve got all those young players,” Klein said. “We seniors are helping them to have confidence and play above the level you’d expect from a freshman.”
Bartell replacing Shaw brought about a major change for the Mountaineers offensively. A defensive assistant coach at Timberline and Northwest Christian before arriving at Rainier in 2013, Shaw discovered the Mountaineers then had a stellar quarterback with a ton of foot speed, McKoy Bichler.
He decided the triple-option offense, which his team at North Thurston now runs, would be best for Rainier and stuck with it throughout his tenure.
Bartell takes more of a multiple offense approach, using a lot of pass-first spread formations.
“We had to do a lot of work on ball skills. The kids were mostly used to taking handoffs and running.” he said.
Indeed, Rainier has passed on 33 percent of its offensive downs in 2019 as opposed to 16 percent a year ago.
Junior quarterback Mike Green has completed 67 percent of his passes for 718 yards and eight touchdowns. Klein has been the top receiver with 12 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Sean Mahaffey has been the deep threat, snagging five balls for an average gain of 31.8 yards and four touchdowns.
The Mountaineers running game hasn’t gone away despite the change in offensive philosophies. Klein has carried 36 times for 483 yards and eight touchdowns. Freshman Jacob Uch has stepped right in as a breakaway threat, averaging 17.3 yards per carry and totaling four scores.
Klein, who once again leads the team in tackles with 36, says the adjustment hasn’t been difficult.
“Both coaches are great. We ran the triple for Coach Shaw and now we run the spread for Coach Bartell. There’s some difference in formation and schemewise,” he said. “But in the end football is about blocking and tackling. We drilled the new stuff in the summer, we were ready.”
The Mountaineers meet the second-ranked team in the statewide Associated Press 2B poll, Onalaska, Friday night at home. The Loggers will be a challenge as well as the start of a stretch of games Rainier hopes will change a vexing recent pattern.
For the final three years of Shaw’s tenure, the Mountaineers began each season 5-0 but ended the year in a playoff game only once. This year, they’re 4-1, with the only loss a 15-14 heartbreaker at Toledo during Week 2.
Injuries to key players – college-bound Ian Russell in 2017, Lofgren last year – contributed as Rainier’s fortunes eroded down the stretch of each season. In 2018, the Mountaineers dropped their last four, starting with a 34-28 loss at Onalaska.
“We’ve got to keep the injuries to a minimum,” said Klein. “It can be more of a will thing. It’s colder late in the season, your bones hurt more after hits. We’ve got to keep drilling everything right and be the team we can be.”