PORT TOWNSEND — New Port Townsend head football coach Patrick Gaffney wanted to get back into coaching and planned to be on the Redhawks’ sidelines this fall. He just didn’t expect to be in charge.
Gaffney was set to join the staff of Alex Heilig in Heilig’s third season leading Port Townsend. But Heilig moved on to a new teaching position out of state, and Gaffney was asked to become the head coach by Port Townsend athletic director Lysa Falge and Principal Carrie Ehrhardt just before school let out for the summer.
No stranger to prep football, Gaffney said he has coached for around 25 years, including a four-year stint at North Beach in Ocean Shores and a long stint as defensive coordinator and athletic director at Chewelah.
Gaffney admits the late start was a little rough, especially for a Redhawks team that struggled with turnout in 2017.
“We weren’t able to have much in the way of spring practices and we didn’t attend a summer camp,” Gaffney said.
“We opened the weight room four days a week and we had anywhere from two to 17 kids there depending on the day. We lifted and ran and jumped and tried to become better athletes for eight weeks this summer.”
Port Townsend is still likely to be light on depth this season.
“We don’t have a lot of returners,” Gaffney said. “We have seven kids who have played high school football at all coming back.”
But those returners were the core of the Redhawks’ production last season.
Starting quarterback and defensive back Noa Apker-Montoya is back and is embracing a leadership role with his younger teammates so far, according to Gaffney.
“Noa is fantastic working with the younger kids,” Gaffney said. “Where I’m most impressed with him is how well he treats them. He knows they will have to play and he will be the one to lead them.
“Physically, he is blessed. If he gets on the edge there’s not many that will catch him.”
Apker-Montoya will be tasked with running Port Townsend’s new misdirection-based Flexbone offense. College teams such as Georgia Tech, Navy, Army and Air Force have used this offense for solid success for many seasons.
“We’ll let the other team figure out who has the ball,” Gaffney said.
Dylan Tracer is the team’s leading returning rusher, totaling more than 800 yards on the ground and six TDs as a sophomore.
And senior Nico Winegar will be in the backfield, a switch from his previous position at wide receiver.
“Dylan and Nico — with our offense we plan on having four guys back there and all of them will touch the ball,” Gaffney said. “Nico is a little bit stronger, a little bit bigger, but Dylan is faster.
“Both those guys are learning wingback and the fullback spot, both can catch and run, both are close to 200 pounds, so those guys are going to be our strength.”
Freshman Jerome Reaux adds some speed to the mix.
“He’s fast, we just have to make sure he’s ready to go and play at this level,” Gaffney said.
Three of the team’s offensive line positions appear set.
“We have a transfer from Minnesota [Chase Campbell], who played football there,” Gaffney said.
“Chase Campbell is about 220 pounds. Jakob Minor our one returning lineman from last season is 220 pounds. And Wesley Blue, he played wide receiver last year, but is about 200 pounds this year and will be a lineman. He’s been working hard in the weight room. So we have those three guys and we are trying to find a fit with some other guys.”
Defense is Gaffney’s bread and butter and Apker-Montoya will be asked to raise his play even more this fall.
“He led the state in interceptions as a freshman [with 10] and added another eight last year,” Gaffney said.
“He’s been a big help with some of the younger kids in the secondary already.”
Winegar will be a linebacker, along with Tracer.
“He’s not the wide receiver build anymore,” Gaffney said of Winegar.
Gaffney acknowledged that freshmen will be seeing quite a bit of varsity time this season.
Besides Reaux, Gaffney mentioned Tanner Woodley.
“Tanner Woodley, we expect him to do some things for us this season,” Gaffney said. “He’s pretty young but he will be on the field quite a bit somewhere in the defensive backfield, at receiver or even at QB.”
Gaffney has a large number of assistants helping out including Maynard Reed, a new PE teacher at the school; Lamont Thornton, a Port Townsend alum and head baseball coach; Brian Tracer, Rich Durr and Scott Harmsen.
“It’s good to have that many eyes on the kids,” Gaffney said. “That many voices and opinions will help us out.”
Apker-Montoya’s dad Noa, the Blue Heron Middle School football coach, also will help until Blue Heron starts its season Sept. 5.
Gaffney said Montoya and Port Townsend Braves youth football director Cameron Jevne are all working together to introduce the same concepts at all levels of football in Port Townsend.
“That’s the plan,” Gaffney said. “That’s why Noa is helping out and why Cameron Jevne is on the Hudl (game film) program and he’s been starting to introduce that stuff with the Braves kids. Some of the terminology, some of the base formations. And Noa will do some of the same stuff, too. We look at it as a whole program from youth through high school.”
Port Townsend will again compete against fellow Olympic League 1A Division teams Klahowya and rival Chimacum, as well as Nisqually League foes Cascade Christian, Bellevue Christian, Vashon and Charles Wright.
“The attitude, motivation and effort from the kids makes me feel like it will be a good year,” Gaffney said. “We have a good core group of leaders and we are really happy with them. So we are excited, but we’d love to have more kids out.”
• Last Year: 3-7 overall, 3-4 Nisqually-Olympic League. Missed playoffs.
Coach: Patrick Gaffney, first season.
• Offense: Flexbone.
• Defense: 4-4-3 base
• Contributors: QB/DB Noa-Apker Montoya; RB/LB Dylan Tracer; RB/LB Nico Winegar; OL/DL Jakob Minor; Chase Campbell OL/DL; Tanner Woodley WR/DB; Jerome Reaux RB/DB.
• Expected team strength: Experience returns in the offensive backfield at quarterback and running back.
• Question mark: Overall depth with a turnout between 20 to 25 kids will be a factor all season. Offensive/defensive line play
• Game to watch: Port Townsend ran all over Coupeville in a 61-12 win last season. Redhawks open in a nonleague tilt against Wolves on Aug. 31.