KENNEWICK - At this time last year, Hermiston football coach Mark Hodges was just trying to get his players to understand the offense and defense he was installing as a first-year coach.
A year later, the landscape of Bulldog football has changed and was on display at the Tri Cities High School Football Camp at Kennewick High School this past week.
"Last year it was learning the offense and now it's applying the offense and being intense about it," Hermiston tight end Adam VonArx said. "Now we're confident in it so we can be confident in each other. What we're doing is right so now we can just go."
"We've been moving as a unit; we're a family and we all believe in each other," added Ethen Warren, an incoming senior linebacker for the Bulldogs. "We've been playing as one pretty much ever since (Hodges) has moved in and we all believe in that."
Starting spring camp the week after Memorial Day, the Bulldogs have spent the last month adding new material to the offense and defense and working hard toward the beginning of a season the players strongly believe will end in a state title. The Bulldogs open the 2009 schedule with Walla Walla August 28.
The last week was the culmination of spring drills for most area high schools. Hermiston spent that last week taking aim at multiple schools from Washington's Big 9 Conference.
"I think we competed pretty well against this competition," Hodges said. "Really the only team that played us even was Connell ... Everyone else we got the better of, running and throwing."
That was never more evident for the Bulldogs than when playing Hanford in the first scrimmage of the evening. During the 20 minute simulated game, the Hermiston offense ran roughshod over the Falcons.
Hodges said soon-to-be-senior Mike Royer had a phenomenal camp as one of the returning options for quarterback Faafiaula Ena at wide receiver. And that continued against Hanford as he caught a pass from Ena in stride across the middle of the field to score the Bulldogs' first touchdown.
After safety Ben Wood picked off the Falcon quarterback in the end zone, Ena set up shop at the 30-yard line - the starting spot in the scrimmage set up - and on the first play of the drive eluded the pass rush and galloped into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Hermiston added two scores against Connell, a run at the goal line from Mark Rademacher and a long strike from Ena to Anthony Montez that split the defenders for the touchdown.
Offensively, the Bulldogs have plenty coming back with the only real question mark, according to Hodges, being who emerges as the starting tailback. At this point in the "beauty pageant" for the starting role, he was not willing to give any names.
He also had a chance to see his defense in action, running its Cover 2 scheme, rather than last year's Cover 3. The most important thing going for the Hermiston defense now, though, may be the intensity it brings every day, led by seniors VonArx, Warren and David Liebe, whom Hodges applauded on their efforts at the camp.
"We're trying to flip that switch, so we're practicing that intensity," Liebe said.
"We're getting that game mentality," VonArx added.