Chad Stadem, Washington’s head football coach, tries to eliminate all individuality from his teams. There’s no intimidating face paint, no headbands, or wristbands, or even different socks.
The strategy has clearly had some success, as the Warriors are coming off a Class 11AAA state championship, the first in Stadem’s tenure as head coach. This year, as they cope with the loss of an illustrious senior class and pin their hopes on starters and a bench that are young all around, forging trust and unity will be especially important.
“I’ve been saying it since I was at Howard: ‘Don’t go cowboy on us,’” Stadem said. “We don’t want heroes; we just want good teammates.”
The Warriors didn’t have heroes last year, Stadem said, even in the state championship game, when quarterback Jack Schelhaas went 20-for-29 passing and receiver Ty Smith yanked the game-winning touchdown away from O’Gorman cornerback Antonio Casiello.
Whatever you call them, though, those players have graduated, along with current Nebraska offensive lineman Matt Farniok, USF wide receiver Ty Smith, Augustana defensive back Isaiah Feterl, to name a few. The Warriors had a 25-man senior class last year; they now have 15.
They’re shallowest and most green on defense, where senior defensive back Jack Bren is the only returning full-time starter. Stadem has been impressed with the younger members of the defense, and players like senior Zach Bolden, senior Peyton Garrow and junior Seth Benson have plenty of varsity experience, but there’s relatively little of that throughout the unit.
That much of Washington’s depth is in juniors and sophomores should help them in coming years, and their offense is largely built on non-seniors as well, except that more of them are in the starting ranks. Junior Logan Uttecht is back at wide receiver, and his prior varsity experience has helped make him one of the leaders of the offense. Junior tight end Zach Heins, listed at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds, has impact size and mobility for the position.
Benson is set for the H-back spot for the Warriors, and he’ll block for and receive throws from sophomore quarterback Jayden Johanssen, whose lean 6-foot-3 frame, easy release and excellent mobility make him one of the more exciting young talents in the city. He’ll hand off to sophomore Tupak Kpeayeh and seniors Sean Oromo and Thuro Reisdorfer at tailback.
They’ll be protected by an offensive line that includes returning starter Jaren Fountain, a senior, and Will Farniok, the youngest of the illustrious Farniok clan of offensive linemen. Stadem said Will Farniok is most similar to Tom, his oldest brother, and while he doesn’t have the bulk of his brothers Derek or Matt, he could be the quickest and most athletic of them all. He already holds multiple Division I scholarship offers and will slot in at center for the Warriors.
The Warriors will run that offense in a college-style spread and at a pace that’s as fast as the referees will let them play.
Washington has plenty of talent, but also plenty of youth and inexperience. They fully recognize that, though. There were questions about last year’s team, too, like how the quarterback situation play out, but it culminated in a state championship trophy.
“We’ve worked really hard in the offseason and put a lot of effort into it, and a lot of practicing, too, and I think we’re clicking as a unit,” Johanssen said. “It’s going to go pretty good.”
Follow Ian Frazer on Twitter at @IanMcFrazer.
AT A GLANCE
COACH: Chad Stadem (4th year)
2015: 11-1, Class 11AAA state champions
RETURNING STARTERS: 4 offense, 1 defense
STRENGTHS: High-ceiling talent all over the offense, especially among juniors and sophomores; willingness to play as fast as possible; confidence coming from state championship after down year.
WEAKNESSES: Lack of game experience at the varsity level on defense.
TOP RETURNERS: C Will Farniok (Jr., 6-2, 250); WR Logan Uttecht (Jr., 6-1, 185); HB/LB Seth Benson (Jr., 6-0, 200)
OUTLOOK: The Warriors lose a lot from last year’s state title squad and are young all around, but they are also very talented and have plenty of experience in Stadem’s system. Much of the city is in the same boat as them, so another strong year is very possible.
OPENER: Aug. 27 at Brandon Valley, 7 p.m., Brandon Valley High School