SPORTS: Coaching icon Terry Jensen returns for Forks homecoming game

FORKS — More than a decade since Terry Jensen left Forks, his legacy still casts a shadow on the North Olympic Peninsula.

Given his ties to two area football programs, one can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened had the legendary head coach’s path led somewhere other than his current position in Montesano.

Would the Forks Spartans have struggled through the same turbulent decade had Jensen decided to stick around the West End for another 10 years?

What about the Port Angeles Roughriders, who suffered a similar fate after opting for young, up-and-comer Dan Novick over Jensen during their own coaching search back in 2001?

Obviously, nobody knows the answers to such questions.

At the very least, however, it’s hard to imagine Forks struggling at the level it has since Jensen stepped down in 2000 — a period that has seen the Spartans go 36-65 under six different head coaches.

“I know for a fact they’ve had some really good coaches there,” Jensen said.

“It’s getting someone in there who wants to stay there for a long time.

“I think that’s how you establish a program. Leave them alone, let them coach and let them build a program.”

If anyone should know, it’s Jensen.

After 16 successful years in Forks, the 54-year-old coach has created a Class 1A juggernaut in his nine-plus seasons at Montesano (83-25 overall.)

Following back-to-back losing seasons in his first two years, Jensen’s Bulldogs have become the class of the SWL-Evergreen Division with five consecutive 10-win campaigns and five straight state trips.

When Montesano (3-0 in league, 5-0 overall) visits Forks (2-1, 2-3) tonight at 7 inside Spartan Stadium, it will be going for its 36th straight league victory.

That’s a fact that’s not lost on new Forks head coach Mark Feasel.

“This will be a huge test for us this week,” said Feasel, whose team rebounded from an 0-3 start with back-to-back league wins. “I’m looking forward to it.

“I told the kids that this is a good opportunity for them. This is a good way for the rest of the state to take notice of us.”

It seems almost fitting that tonight’s game is also the Spartans’ homecoming, given how much Jensen once meant to the Forks program.

He guided the Spartans to five league titles, nine playoff appearances and one state semifinal trip in his first head coaching gig.

After taking Forks to its third state quarterfinal in his 16th and final season, he stepped down to take a year off from football.

“It was time,” Jensen said. “I sat out a year and I just didn’t feel like I was getting the commitment that we needed.

“For me it was a matter of buy-in and commitment. I wasn’t seeing it a the time, so I felt it was time to step away for a year.

“That was when the whole thing came open at PA.”

Jensen actually interviewed for the Port Angeles football job on two different occasions — once when it opened up in the mid 1990s and again in 2001.

Yet it was the second interview that really felt like the one that got away for Jensen.

Making a pitch to stick around for a long time and build a program from the ground up, his application was denied in favor of Novick’s.

“At that time it would have been a great fit for me and my family,” Jensen said.

“I was looking to stay there for a long time, and that wasn’t the answer they were looking for. They were looking for somebody to use [the job] as a stepping stone.”

Of course, Novick ended up doing just that, leaving Port Angeles after three years for a higher profile job in Vancouver, Wash.

He is now the head coach and athletic director at Kingston.

After Novick’s resignation, the Riders went through four different coaches and several losses before eventually opting for a candidate, Tom Wahl, who made the same promises as Jensen.

“I thought it was a bit shocking myself,” Jensen said. “That kind of left me a little puzzled, but it ended up in the long run being best for us.”

Indeed, Jensen has thrived at Montesano much like he did at Forks.

His Bulldogs are currently ranked No. 2 in 1A going into tonight’s league game and have surrendered just one touchdown all season while outscoring opponents 240-7.

At this point, Montesano has become a football factory.

“We started off pretty rough our first two years, we really struggled,” said Jensen, 8-1 against Forks as Montesano’s coach.

“But the administration here had belief in us and let us continue on and let us build a program the way we wanted to.

“You need to have a strong administration that’s willing to back you, and I think we have that here.”

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