TOUCHET — Jon Wright has never been a high-school head football coach, and he has no previous experience with the 8-man game.
But the Lovelock, Nevada, native and United States Army veteran is determined to resurrect a Touchet High gridiron program from the depths of a forfeited 2018 season to its former status as one of the most respected 8-man football programs in the state.
“The kids have all set personal goals,” Wright said. “And the team goal is to win the conference and go as far as we can in the playoffs.
“But the biggest thing is we are going to play every game,” he added. “There are not going to be any forfeits.”
It remains to be seen if conference championships and playoff games are in the Indians’ immediate future. But playing a full nine-game schedule in the wake of last year’s train wreck of a season would be a major accomplishment that Wright and his players can take pride in.
A year ago Touchet forfeited its first two games because it couldn’t field a team. A low turnout — compounded by academic issues — was the culprit.
The Indians took the field for the first time the third weekend of the season and lost on the road to Sunnyside Christian 60-14. They lost again the next weekend at Colton 70-0 before falling to St. John-Endicott 46-0 in what proved to be their only home game of the season.
By then injuries were taking their toll as well. And when the team couldn’t answer the bell for its next game at Garfield-Palouse, athletic director Darrell Loney decided enough was enough and informed his fellow ADs that Touchet would be unable to fulfill the remainder of its schedule.
Talk quickly turned to the future, and many questioned the school’s ability to compete in football going forward. But in a spring meeting between school administrators, coaches, players and their parents, there was enough interest to give football a go again in 2019.
And when Wright called his first practice a couple of weeks ago, 17 players were on hand and preparations for the upcoming season began.
With just two seniors on the squad, the roster is made up largely of four juniors and five sophomores.
Jesse Hackiewicz (6-foot, 180 pounds) and Evan McMakin (6-0, 220) are the seniors.
“Jesse is one of our team captains, he is fast and strong, and he will be one of our running backs and play linebacker,” Wright said of Hackiewicz. “Evan McMakin is one of our bigger kids and will anchor the line along with his brother.”
Kaiden McMakin (5-9, 220) is one of the five sophomores on the team and will also be counted on to start on both the offensive and defensive lines.
The juniors are Zac Jaggar (6-3, 180), Justin McColley (6-1, 180), Kaedyn Gallaher (5-6, 150) and Elijah Buchanan (5-7, 190).
Jaggar has experience at quarterback but might see time at tight end as well, Wright said. McColley is working at center and defensive end, Gallaher at running back and linebacker, and Buchanan is another two-way line prospect.
“Jaggar is battling for the quarterback position, but we have some younger kids who will also play the position,” Wright said. “Zac will switch between QB and tight end, and we’re also looking at him as a safety on defense.”
“McColley was a tight end last year, but we’re moving him to center and so far he looks pretty good,” Wright said. “He understands what works best for the team, and as a whole group they are accepting of how we are doing it.”
Bryan Vasquez (5-8, 140), Ivan Angeles (5-9, 150), Bodie Holderman (5-7, 150) and Diego Zamora (6-0, 140) are the other four sophomores.
“Bryan is one of our younger guys we are pretty excited about,” Wright said of Vasquez. “He’s a real fast kid who will play wide receiver for us, and he will also play some defensive back.
“Ivan (Angeles) will play running back and linebacker. He is not new to football, but he broke his foot as a freshman and didn’t get to play, so in that sense he is new to football.”
Wright still isn’t sure where Holderman and Zamora will fit in to the equation.
Five freshmen and an eighth grader round out the roster.
The freshmen are Deegan Dodd (6-1, 185), Alex Gonzalez (6-1, 140), Brayan Orozco (5-6, 120), Inry Mendoza (5-5, 120) and Noah Villapando (5-5, 120). Dallan Huntley is the lone eighth grader.
Dodd is in competition with Jaggar for the quarterback position, and he is also seeing snaps at tight end. Defensively, he is getting looks on the line and at linebacker.
“He is going to contribute big-time right off the bat,” Wright said of Dodd.
Dodd’s father, Travis Dodd, is new to the Indians’ coaching staff this year, joining Wright and longtime assistant coach Leland Weber.
Weber took over as the team’s head coach last season when Jesse Solis stepped down after just one season because of a work-related scheduling conflict.
Wright, who coached middle-school football in his hometown of Lovelock and also at Garrison Middle School in Walla Walla after moving to the area in 2017, is the Indians’ fourth head coach in as many years.
The Indians aren’t scheduled to open the season until Sept. 13 when they entertain Soap Lake in a non-league game. Touchet launches its Southeast 1B-8 League season the following weekend at home against Lyle-Wishram, one of three new teams in the league this year.