HERMISTON — A new era in Hermiston High School football officially began this week, as the Bulldogs began their first full-team practices as members of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.
Wednesday marked the first day of sanctioned practices for WIAA members, and all kids on Hermiston’s 2018 roster strapped on their helmets and stepped out on the Kennison Field turf for the first time in the morning for the first practice of the day. The Bulldogs met back on the field later in the afternoon, though that session ended indoors in the gymnasium as the smoke from Northwest wildfires continued to roll in and made the air unsafe to continue outdoors.
But the Bulldogs did not let the change of scenery dampen their excitement to be back playing football as they begin preparation for their Week 1 meeting with Pasco in just 16 days.
“Any time you can get a group of young men that want to get better every day, it’s an awesome thing,” Hermiston coach David Faaeteete said.
As Hermiston begins its journey into a new conference and a new state athletic association, the team will also have plenty of new faces on the field this fall. On offense, Hermiston returns only four starters overall with senior quarterback Andrew James, senior receiver Jordan Ramirez, senior offensive lineman Jacob Liebe and junior offensive tackle Chase Bradshaw. And while the coaches feel pretty confident with the new guys on the line, there are a lot of unknowns at the skill positions still to be figured out in camp.
With the likes of Dayshawn Neal, Joey Gutierrez and Jonathan Hinkle lost to graduation, Hermiston must replace more than 2,000 receiving yards and 27 touchdowns as well as more than 2,000 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns.
“It’s all changed,” James said. “It’s a whole new team, a lot of younger guys, but it’s not going to stop us. We have the same coaches, the same mentality as last year and years before. We have no clue what’s in front of us, but we’re just going to try and do what we do best.”
The Bulldogs have nearly just as much production to replace on the defensive side of the ball as well, though Faaeteete is excited to see how his kids battle things out throughout these next few weeks in camp.
“We have tons of new faces,” he said. “I think I’ll know more once we finish up camp and get into that first game week, but right now we’re just trying to teach fundamentals, trying to coach them up and knock the rust off after being out for a while. Right now it’s setting our depth chart, finding out who our ones, twos, threes are, and building depth that way.”
As preparations for the season begin, the Bulldogs will have no easy games on the schedule against their Mid-Columbia Conference opponents; nearly every school brings a state championship pedigree to the field. Hermiston opens the season at home against the Pasco Bulldogs, a battle being dubbed the ‘Battle of the Bulldogs,’ but then hits the road in Week 2 to take on the defending 4A state champion Richland Bombers.
The Bulldogs then have home games against Kennewick (Sept. 14), Southridge (Sept. 28), Eisenhower (Oct. 12, non-league) and Kamiakin (Oct. 26), while traveling to Walla Walla (Sept. 21), Chiawana (Oct. 5) and Hanford (Oct. 19).
“We have to play a state championship-caliber team every week in our conference and that’s just how it is for us now,” Faaeteete said. “And Tri-Cities schools are going to travel well. Hundreds of fans each week and one school maybe even a thousand, and it’s going to be that kind of atmosphere every game at home, every game on the road, so we’re pretty excited about it.
“That type of venue you don’t always get in high school football, unless you’re in the big city like West Linn versus Jesuit ... it’s going to be a great atmosphere and we’re super excited.”
The Bulldogs will also have another change to its uniform this season, as the team has changed the helmet paint from a matte black to a glossy white shell with purple facemask. This comes on the heels of changing the helmets from gold to black for the 2016 season, and then introducing new purple and white jerseys last season.
Faaeteete said it’s just a coincidence the team has yet another new look for its first year in the WIAA.
“It’s part of the rotation,” he said. “We have to get our helmets refurbished every two years, and it costs the same to just paint a different color, so we tried to dabble a little bit, be a little flashy. We can’t afford multiple helmets, I wish we could, but that’s probably from me playing at Oregon a bunch of years ago.
“It’s something a little bit different, but the kids like the look.”