TUMWATER — If there is to be a Black Hills football rebuild this coming season, it will begin with a simple truth out of the mouth of second-year coach Garrett Baldwin:
“There is no rule that says if you go 1-8, you’re going to lose again the next year.”
Baldwin would be one to know. His sophomore year in 2007, the Wolves went 2-7. The next season, they won six of their first seven games and made the postseason, and his high school playing career finished with an 8-3 season in 2009.
Now, after Black Hills’ worst season record-wise in at least two decades in his first fall in charge, he’s hoping to lead a similar turnaround as a coach. And while August is the month of rose-tinted glasses looking at groups who haven’t taken a hit in anger from a player wearing a different-colored jersey, he feels like he has the squad to do it with.
“This group has responded well,” Baldwin said. “We’ve tried to shake things up quite a bit. After you go 1-8, you can either become the victim, or you can see it as a challenge to overcome. That’s what we are doing, and that’s what they are doing. They’re buying into it. It’s awesome, it seems like a totally different team. Just one year, and it’s a totally different group.”
If there’s a good sign within the group, it’s that Baldwin has returning leaders scattered all over the field, in just about every group. It starts with do-it-all senior Tanner Parkinson, who’s currently set to feature in at safety for the Wolves, while also kicking, punting, standing in as the backup quarterback, and seeing the field at wide receiver.
“The kid does everything,” Baldwin said. “He’s really led the charge with our culture change.”
Up front, Brayden Golder is slated to lead the line, with 6-foot-3 Keagen Rongen lining up at tight end on offense and on the edge on defense.
Tailback Johnnie Stallings is back for his senior year after earning second-team all-league honors in the 2A Evergreen Conference last season, though Baldwin said that Braiden Bond will feature into the backfield as well.
They’ll be next to the Wolves’ youngest returning leader: quarterback Jaxsen Beck, who took the reins of the offense as a freshman and returns for his second year starting in 2022.
“He’s already talked about how much it’s slowed down,” Baldwin said. “He’s still a sophomore, he’s still going to make mistakes on a varsity football field. We’re never going to ask that kid to be perfect, but he definitely feels more comfortable.”
Black Hills will open up the season in tough fashion, hosting a strong 1A side in Montesano Week 1. After that, they’ll flip the script with another cross-classification game, jumping up to face 3A North Thurston, which hasn’t won a game since before the days of COVID-19.
From there, it’s a plunge into a stacked 2A EvCo, where the Wolves will find out just how ready they are to live up to their coach’s optimism.
“We’re just hoping more guys buy in so we can show this community that the Wolves can be a good football program consistently,” Baldwin said.