Despite a successful 2022 season where the Pe Ell-Willapa Valley Titans reached the state semifinals, they’ll enter this season with some unknowns, including a new head coach and a new quarterback.
While coach Nate Smith is familiar with the PWV sideline, having coached the junior high team and having been on the high school staff of former coach Wayne Compton, this is his first season as the high school’s head coach.
“It’s a work in progress,” Smith said at the conclusion of Saturday’s practice, the final session of his first week. “New offense, new head coach, defensive coaches, new language, it’s just new to the kids and it’s new to us.”
While Smith was an assistant for Compton in the early 2000s, the roles are now reversed, as Compton is back on Smith’s staff working with the offense.
“He’s a pretty knowledgable guy and he’ll be pretty helpful for me,” Smith said of Compton. “He’ll be in the booth calling plays a lot of the time.”
Saturday was the first day of pads for the Titans, and the offense was able to run plays against the defense for the first time.
While they mixed in different formations in the 11-on-11 session to match what Compton and defensive coordinator Dave Strozyk were working on, Smith is already formulating a vision for what he expects his offense to look like this fall.
“We got some good players in the backfield,” Smith said when discussing his offensive focus. “In the backfield, we got a little bit older kids who know the game really well.”
He added that even though his receivers are on the younger side, he and Compton won’t be afraid to figure out ways to get the ball in their hands.
Who leads that offense under center, however, is still to be determined. After Kolten Fluke’s graduation in the spring, Smith said that the starting quarterback spot is up for grabs.
Through the first week of camp, senior Tyson Portmann, junior Nate Fluke and sophomore Brody Ritzeman have all battled for the starting spot. While Smith isn’t ready to anoint a Week 1 starter yet, he is pleased with the way they have been pushing each other in practice.
“They know it’s a competition,” Smith said. “They no there is nobody starting yet, and that’s a good thing for me.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Strozyk, an assistant on last year’s high school staff, will be overseeing a defensive unit that allowed 20 points or fewer in eight games last year.
Strozyk is implementing a 3-4 scheme, one where he expects his players to know the scheme and fly around the back end to make plays.
The Titans' first test will come on Sep. 1 when they travel to Mossyrock. Smith confirmed the two teams will be playing 11-on-11.