Five years ago, Rainier football was 2-7. It was coach Mike King’s third year with the program in 2014, and things didn’t exactly go swimmingly.
But what’s made the Columbians so successful, and such a consistent program over the past decade, is that the team’s philosophy never wavered.
King and his coaching staff pride themselves on doing things the right way. The Columbians, over the past seven years since King took over as head coach, aren’t boastful. Respectful of other teams and coaches, it’s hard to dislike the Columbians, even if their style of play feels like a wrecking ball of frustration and fatigue for the opponents who have to deal with it.
Even at 2-7, King and his squad stuck to the principles. It would have been easy to get away from the Diesel the 2010 title team, led by a more boisterous Thor Ware, made famous.
There were years when the offense opened up to adjust to the personnel — it was hard not to chuck it around with Steele Ware under center.
This group, though, was the perfect fit for King’s philosophy, which is pioneered by Joey Tripp, who is most emblematic of it. He’s laser-focused, always taking it one game at a time — coach speak, certainly, but somehow taken to heart by this team — and after he pounds teams for 300 yards and five scores, he’s almost stoic. Occasional roars accompany his touchdowns, before he demands coaches give him the ball again.
If anybody was going to lead the Columbians to their first title under King, it had to be Tripp. What Rainier accomplished this season — a perfect 13-0 record and a second state title in eight years — was remarkable given how things stood entering the season. But the Columbians’ identity — one forged long ago using sleds and hills — shined at every step of the way.
And you only have to look across the river to find a team with remarkable parallels. Sean McDonald is in his fourth year as head coach of Kalama. Like King, the former lineman has a set of principles, a template he wants his teams to follow.
This year’s team is the first that are entirely McDonald disciples. Like Tripp, senior quarterback Alex Dyer is the perfect light to lead the way. He resembles everything McDonald hopes his players come to be, and it’s not just because of his pinpoint accuracy and agile backfield presence. He’s calm, composed and has an uncanny drive to win.
And so despite losing many key pieces from a 2017 title team, the Chinooks found their way back to the Tacoma Dome. Like Rainier, McDonald’s squad was overlooked and underrated entering the year. But through forging an identity, having players who commit to a coach’s philosophy and a staff that never wavers from it, both teams exceeded expectations.
King and McDonald unlocked the secret to success, and don’t expect either one of those programs to go too long between state bids. The master philosophers have drafted the recipe for a consistent contender; everyone just has to follow the instructions.