ONALASKA — Mazen Saade’s office in the Onalaska High School locker room is lined with black and white framed photos of Logger sports teams of the past, including the 1986 state football championship squad.
Saade, who took over as the head football coach in 2011, brought the unincorporated settlement on State Route 508 its first championship trophy in 33 years last December during a 48-30 victory over rival Kalama.
But on Monday, Oct. 5, as the Loggers would normally be five games deep and at the midway point of the regular season by now, Saade is preparing not for an opponent this Friday but for a slew of practices.
It’s the current reality for all high school football teams in the state as the WIAA pushed the fall football season back to a March 2021 start date due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was weird that Friday night of Sept. 4, which was supposed to be the season opener for the Loggers, said Saade, who has 16 total years of coaching and defensive coordinator Wayne Nelson, who has 40 years under his belt.
“At this stage, we just kind of look at it and go, ‘OK, that was an awkward feeling but we’ve got to improvise, adapt and overcome. It’s time to go to work and we can do what we can do,’” Saade said. “It’s weird not being on the field right now knowing it’s week six.”
So instead of constructing a game plan for this upcoming Friday with Nelson, Saade is instead taking the temperature of each of his football players before they begin lifting weights and running drills in four separate pods of 10, as per WIAA guidelines. Prep football teams have an open-period to conduct non-contact, padless practices from Sept. 28 to Nov. 30, which include wiping down all equipment, wearing masks and social distancing.
Saade, Nelson and the Loggers are taking full advantage of it.
A whiteboard in Saade’s office has “You either got better today or you got worse,” scrawled in black erase marker. One sign reads, “Hard work beats talent,” while another says “Team work makes the dream work.”
The Loggers take those mantras to heart — one of the reasons they were so successful last year — and it’s apparent in this upcoming batch of players as well.
“Our kids have been chomping at the bit to go,” Saade said. “Our attendance has been through the roof.”
The Loggers have been averaging 36 out of 38 players at its hour and a half practices held Monday through Friday. The workout pods of around 10 or less players, broken up into groups such as skill players and linemen, begin the day by getting their temperature taken by Saade in the locker room. A pod will then hit the weight room with masks on for about 45 minutes and then head to the field where coach Nelson runs them through a set of drills pertaining to whichever group they are in. Saade and Nelson also stay afterward to allow a group of 10 female athletes who created their own pod to lift weights and workout on their own.
“The way we have to look at it is we get to do these things,” Saade said. “It’s a lot more than other people in the state are doing right now. It’s a lot more than other schools in this area are getting a chance to do right now.”
Onalaska and Napavine are the only two football teams in the county that are currently holding team practices on-site. Saade said his players have done an amazing job of holding a positive attitude through losing their fall football season and having it postponed, and potentially fully cancelled this spring. The team has been optimistic, he said, with players asking and finding ways to work out, even before the open period started on Sept. 28.
“That’s a huge thing, and it tells our staff that these kids want to play right now,” Saade said. “They understand what’s in front of them, where they were last year and that they don’t want to be anything short of what last year was. That’s been pretty cool to see.”
The Loggers know full well they have a giant target on their back after running roughshod through opponents en route to an unblemished 13-0 record. They didn’t just beat opponents either, they manhandled them with an unbreakable line, ferocious defense and an unstoppable triple option offense. The Loggers posted four shutouts, allowed just one foe to score more than 22 points and outscored opponents with an average score of 49-10. They scored 40 or more points in 10 of their 13 games.
Saade still sees that hunger from last season in this group of Loggers as well, evidenced from the 95 percent attendance rate at workouts this past week.
“That’s one of the great things I see from this year’s team, so far, is how tight-knit they are, how close they are,” Saade said. “They’re doing things together all the time outside of school, running together, and that camaraderie is huge. They’re hungry, for sure.”
They’re fueled by the fact, Saade said, that people in the area and around the state are-wondering how they are going to survive without the stars that carried them last year; the Alex Fraziers, the Alex Inmans, the Ashton Haights, the Cade Lawrences and the Lucas Kregers? How are they going to survive after losing 13 senior leaders?
“These guys want to prove that, ‘Hey, we can survive. We’re OK. We can do this thing,’” Saade said. “And that’s exciting. It’s hope for these guys and excitement at a time most people could turn and be saddened by what’s going on around them. And that’s been really impressive to see.”