By the standard some like to think separates the men from boys on the gridiron, Kalama is one of the strongest.
The Chinooks’ offensive and defensive lines have grown dramatically over the past nine months, both physically and mentally, in part because of an offseason strength program that kids bought in to.
Coach Sean McDonald estimates 75 percent of the team participated. And a few, including McDonald, think that’s been the ultimate difference this season for the No. 1-ranked Chinooks, who meet Adna at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It’s probably the reason we’re still going right now,” offensive lineman KC Larranaga said. “Your team is getting physically stronger, but you’re together during the offseason, you’re working. Brothers in arms type of thing.”
Kalama was 6-4 last year, and lost to Napavine 41-6 in the playoffs one year ago in the state first round. The Chinooks are riding on an undefeated cloud this year, with a point differential of plus-33.4, their closest game being a 14-8 overtime win over the the defending champions in Week 2.
Would they be in the same position without so many guys hitting the weights together during the spring and summer?
“Probably not, honestly,” guard Abe Bah said. “Maybe (we’d be playing) this week. I don’t know about next week.”
Bah said McDonald has been a big influence and is his role model.
McDonald was a lineman at Kalama and played defensive line for Humboldt State and won a Great Northwest Athletic Conference title in 2011.
“When we won a conference championship, out of our 95-man roster, 56 showed up all summer long,” McDonald said. “Looking at this team, we had 25 or 30 guys out of a 45-man roster. So it’s kind of comparable that way. The more guys to dedicate themselves, when game time comes, it’s huge.”
Bah says added 20 pounds of bulk during the offseason, and it’s helped when practicing against the team’s best defensive lineman.
He’s not the only one. Markus Rocha, too, has beefed up.
“Being a first-year varsity starter, that’s a good thing,” Larranaga said of his teammate. “Rocha is probably the best lineman in the league. So he’d probably be struggling a lot right now (without extra bulk), but he’s not.”
Defensive and offensive linemen aren’t the only one’s to have benefited. Quarterback Alex Dyer has only been sacked a handful of times this season.
“It’s definitely noticeable,” Dyer said, “I have so much more time in the pocket this year. Sometimes like 10 seconds or more.”
Opposing running backs haven’t been as fortunate, though, as McDonald cites linebacker Corbyn Byrnes’ dedication in the weight room as the reason he’s “a whole different person.”
“You look at us from last year to this year, Corbyn is a huge example,” McDonald said. “He lifted all through the year and went from being one person to a total different human. The way he blows plays up and runs the ball, there’s no plays off anymore. And that’s 80 percent of our team. They’re bigger stronger and faster.”
Byrnes said he feels different on the field, too.
“It’s just totally different; I’m a whole different player,” Byrnes said. “When a running back runs up the middle and I have to stop them, 99 percent of the time, he’s going backwards. I notice that a lot, and I don’t see a lot of that on my tape last year— more taking them to the side or something. This year, I think where I really saw it was against Ilwaco. I think I had five tackles where I literally run through the guy and he goes backwards.”
The totality of Kalama’s strength training program has helped boost the squad to the top ranking in Class 2B since a Week 2 win over Napavine. Now they’re a win away from their first state quarterfinal since 2007.
“I don’t think we’d be in this spot without so many guys showing up,” Larranaga said. “We’re a different team this year.”