NEAH BAY — The Neah Bay football team is going into this season with a sense that there’s still work to be done.
The team has lofty ambitions after a spectacular 2022 campaign. But it was a season that ended with frustration.
The Red Devils went 11-1 last year, crushing opponents in every victory, winning three playoff games and making it all the way to the Class 1B state championship game, which they lost to Liberty Bell 50-12.
And the scary thing for the other teams at the 1B level? That was a very young team, full of eighth-graders and freshmen.
Neah Bay only graduated five players from last year, though four of those players were important starters.
The Red Devils lose a lot of size from last year’s squad as 240-pound Andre Greene and 233-pound Kaeden Butterfield have graduated.
“Those guys really anchored both our offensive and defensive lines,” said incoming coach TJ Greene, who takes the team over the second time, replacing last year’s coach, Kane Bachelor.
Neah Bay also lost its starting quarterback, Julian Carrick, who gained nearly 1,100 yards rushing and threw for another 500 yards, and Neil Bowechop, an important cog on the team on both offense and defense.
But with a talented core of sophomores and freshmen from last year, the Red Devils are seriously stocked for another title run.
A total of 28 players have come out for the team with another two or three players soon to join the squad, Greene said. He added he isn’t worried about replacing Butterfield and Andre Greene’s size.
“Some of the big guys we have behind them are just as big. They just don’t have the game experience yet,” coach Greene said.
The biggest change will be a new quarterback, Mathias Greene, who was on the team last year as an eighth-grader and got in most games. Coach Greene pointed out that Mathias has actually been with the team since the seventh grade, practicing with the squad, so he comes in as a freshman with essentially two years of experience.
And Mathias Greene will have a lot of help on offense. A huge returner for the Red Devils is running back Jodell Wimberly.
As a sophomore last year, Wimberly logged a staggering 1,864 yards rushing and 24 touchdowns. He may be asked to do even more this season with Carrick moving on.
“Jodell, he’s looking good,” coach Greene said. He also said Wimberly will get some help from Tyler Swan and Charles Halttunen, who combined for nearly 700 yards and 11 touchdowns out of the backfield last season. So, even with the loss of Carrick, this team returns 2,550 rushing yardage from last season.
One underclassmen that Greene expects to step up this year is Aiden Ellis, a tight end and defensive end. He was a sophomore last year, leading the team in receptions and quarterback sacks, and will be expected to do even more this year.
The Red Devils by every account had a wildly successful season in 2022, outscoring their opponents 580-85 in nine non-forfeit wins, averaging 64.4 points a game and allowing fewer than 10 points a game. But the one game that sticks with them is the 50-12 loss in the championship, a game the Red Devils could have been in if not for some mistakes and turnovers.
“They came in in a lot better shape this year. They’re motivated by that defeat and want to take the next step,” Greene said. “They definitely feel like they left the job undone, but it’s a long way to go to get back there.”
Greene said there could be some “bumps in the road” early in the year as the Red Devils integrate some of their younger players in the game. The team is also having to get used to a new coaching staff as offensive coordinator Tony McCaulley has also moved on. “Things are going to take time. The play calling is going to be different,” Greene said.
The Red Devils gave themselves a tough schedule and get a huge test right out of the gate, playing defending state champion Liberty Bell in Oak Harbor on Sept. 2. They follow that up with a another tough game at 2B Forks on Sept. 8 before returning to Northwest B League action, hosting Crescent on Sept. 15. Other important games include 2B Raymond-South Bed (Oct. 6), Lummi (Oct. 20) and at Quilcene (Oct. 28).
Neah Bay Red Devils
• Head Coach: TJ Greene.
• Last Year’s Record: 11-1, advanced to the 1B state championship game.
• Key Returners: Jodell Wimberly (RB/LB, Jr..); Tyler Swan (OL/DL, Soph.); Mathias Greene (QB/LB, Fr.); Charles Halttunen (FB/LB, So.).
• Newcomers: Coach TJ Greene said that while he is just a freshman, quarterback Mathias Greene has been practicing with the team since the seventh grade and got in some valuable game experience last year as an eighth-grader. He also expects Aiden Ellis to step up this year at receiver and defensive end.
• Strengths: Huge turnout. Much of the explosive offense from last year returns.
And most of all, motivation.
“[This team] definitely feels like they left the job undone,” Greene said.
• Areas to improve: Replacing the size of Andre Greene and Kaeden Butterfield and meshing with a new coaching staff.
“I expect there will be some bumps in the road,” Greene said.
• Outlook: A return to the playoffs is assured. This team expects to be back in the mix for the state championship this season.
• Schedule: Sept. 2: vs. Liberty Bell at Oak Harbor, 3 p.m.; Sept. 8: at Forks, 7 p.m.; Sept. 15: Crescent, 7 p.m.; Sept. 22: at Concrete, 6 p.m.; Sept. 30: at Tulalip Heritage, 3 p.m.; Oct. 6: vs. Raymond at Forks, 7 p.m.; Oct. 13: Darrington, 5 p.m.; Oct. 20: Lummi, 5 p.m.; Oct. 28: at Quilcene, 1 p.m.
Sports Editor Pierre LaBossiere can be contacted at 360-417-3525 or firstname.lastname@example.org.