Running game keeps Eagles grounded

From left to right: Klahowya’s Andre Moore, David Dawson and Cody Hertenstein have all been big reasons for the success of the Eagles’ running game this season, but each for uniquely different reasons. - Photo by Aaron Managhan
From left to right: Klahowya’s Andre Moore, David Dawson and Cody Hertenstein have all been big reasons for the success of the Eagles’ running game this season, but each for uniquely different reasons.
— image credit: Photo by Aaron Managhan

With a team name like the Eagles, Klahowya’s football lineup gives the impression of going through the air to fly high on the field.

But for KSS, it’s just the opposite and the Eagles are reaching new heights without ever leaving the ground.

While Klahowya has always been known for a strong running game, it’s usually been headed up by a stellar standout, like former Eagles Rory Lee and Isaac Solaita.

But this year, defenses have even more to contain as the Eagles have been using not one or two backs regularly, but three, concocting a complementary trio of styles to keep defenses on their toes.

“It’s pretty nice in this offense,” Klahowya coach Brad Hamblet said.

“The running game has always worked here,” current Eagle running back Cody Hertenstein said. “We’ve had some great running backs. Rory Lee, Isaac Solaita. This offense if designed to pound the ball. We’ve been able to keep that up.”

First, there’s Andre Moore, the speed demon who can cut through a seem on a dime and burst into a second gear at will. Next, there’s Hertenstein, a guy who’s guaranteed to get you gains each time he touches the ball, whether it means spinning off tackles, jumping over tacklers or simply breaking through them. Finally, there’s Jeremy Alder, the rock-’em-and-sock-’em fullback whose job is to pound the trenches.

“We can give Andre the ball and if he hits a seam like we planned out, he can do something big,” Hamblet said. “Cody is the yards-after-contact guy. You hit him and he’s not going down the first time. And that’s also not to say that Andre’s not tough. He just has that speed. And it’s always nice to have guys that people have to respect on the inside. (Alder)’s a bruiser, which is always nice to have.”

But the trio agrees they’re not the reason behind Klahowya’s success. Rather, they’re behind the reason the team has been successful.

“We couldn’t do any of this without our linemen,” Hertenstein said. “They’re the heart and soul of this team.”

That line is Dominic Cruz, David Dawson, Alex Andrews, Paul Kelly, Taylor Cole and tight ends Cody Shaputis and Chad Reeder.

The most remarkable aspect of Klahowya’s ground game? Cole is the lone senior. Moore, Hertenstein, Dawson, Kelly and Reeder are all juniors, while Alder, Cruz, Andrews and Shaputis are all just sophomores.

But many members of that group saw playing time last year, when Klahowya also was stocked with an abundance of youth.

“A lot of us saw a lot of playing time last year,” Dawson said. “We just didn’t wanna go out like that. We just stepped it up.”

While last year’s youthful squad finished just 1-9, the Eagles have turned it around this year, sitting pretty at 5-3 overall this season (3-1 in Olympic League action), having already secured a playoff berth in the state preliminary round.

“It’s a big change over last year,” Dawson said. “I think our team just came together a lot better this year.”

That on-field success has started on the line, where many overestimate Klahowya from the get-go. Take a guy like Dawson, who stands under 6 feet tall and doesn’t weigh too much more than a buck fifty.

More often than not, Dawson and the line have been overmatched size-wise. But that just means they have to be resourceful, Dawson said.

“A lot of the those big fat guys, they’re slow and fat,” he said. “They can’t maneuver themselves very well. We can out-maneuver them.”

Klahowya’s linemen also are faster than their bigger opponents.

“They just work hard,” Moore said. “Even though they’re small, they have speed. Sometimes it’s better to have speed. Our running backs are good, so all we need is a split second to be gone.”

And that’s no understatement.

For much of the season, Moore averaged 200 yards per game. Through eight games, Moore has racked up 1,573 yards on 163 carries, scoring 17 touchdowns in the process. Last year, Soliata set the school’s single-season record with 1,367 yards. Moore has already surpassed that with a game to go in the regular season. In fact, Moore attributes a lot of his personal success to watching and learning from Solaita.

“When we started last year, it was kind of different,” Moore said. “Watching Isaac play last year helped me a lot. And working in the offseason.”

Moore, a running back since he began playing as a Chico Pee Wees fifth-grader, said he knew the first time he touched the ball that running was what he wanted to do. He said there’s no greater feeling than seeing his line clear a path.

“You know you’re gonna make a big play when you see that line open it up,” he said. “It feels great. I love it.”

And while Moore’s individual success has been nice, he said making the playoffs has been far more rewarding.

“I’m not that talkative, like bragging,” he said. “I’d rather win than have 200 yards and lose.”

It’s that kind of attitude, combined with the team’s work ethic, that has helped all of Klahowya’s athletes improve this season.

“Really, it all starts in the weight room,” Hertenstein said. “Everyone is working their butts off. One guy that jumps out to me is Dominic Cruz. He just works his butt off. Everyone on the team is. It’s good to see.”

For Hertenstein, who began football in the Gig Harbor Pee Wees system before moving to Seabeck in sixth grade, another key factor has been the team’s united front.

“I think the No. 1 thing is everyone wants to win,” he said. “If you don’t share that common goal, it’s not going to work.”

This season, Hertenstein has 749 rushing yards on 140 carries, scoring eight touchdowns.

And while Alder hasn’t been the big yardage guy, he still makes his contributions by not only running (Alder went over the 100-yard mark for the first time this season last week in the team’s 28-25 loss to Sequim), but by blocking as well. Alder is at 191 yards on 46 carries with three scores.

“He’s a good blocker too,” Moore said of his teammate. “We feed him up the middle a lot. Keeps the defense honest. They don’t know what’s coming.”

And that’s where Klahowya’s strength lies.

“When the defense gets on one of us, we’ll give it to the other person,” Moore said. “They’ll run just as hard and get lots of yards.”

But again, it all starts with the battle up front.

“They’re really good running backs,” Dawson said. “But it’s up to us to help them get though there so they don’t have to deal with 11 guys on them.”

Another way Klahowya’s line has tried to overcome its size is by staying low.

“In practice, we do a low-hitting drill,” Dawson said. “It kind of makes it an subconscious thought of always staying low. If you’re low, then those guys will fall over you. They’ll get off-balance pretty easily.”

But ultimately, the success of the run game for the Eagles lies not with the runners or blockers themselves, but in the dynamic relationship between the two units.

“It’s just a big part of a team,” Dawson said. “Just practicing with each other, giving each other feedback. And demonstrating you can do the things they want you to do and they can do the things that you want them to do.”

“They both have to work hard together in practice,” Moore added. “The linemen have to know the running backs and the running back has to know his linemen.”

Hertenstein said that relationship goes off the field to help strengthen the team on it.

“It’s a cool thing, the relationships the running backs and the offensive line have,” Hertenstein said. “I myself, I hang out with most the members of the O-line. They’re pretty cool guys.”

That relationship makes everyone’s jobs a little easier.

“You’ve got to have a good relationship with them,” Hertenstein said. “If you don’t know one of the guys on the line, it can be hard for them to trust you and for you to trust them. If you’re buddy-buddy with him, it’s gonna be easier to rely on them.”

That also makes both sides open to constructive criticism from one another.

“Like Cody and Andre, they’ll tell us when we need to step it up,” Dawson said. “And they tell us when we do a good job. Sometimes we have our differences. But I think once we got a little more confidence in ourselves, we have pretty good control over our emotions.”

Hertenstein said the reason for the relationship is simple.

“The linemen can’t get any glory if the running backs aren’t doing their thing and the running backs can’t get any glory if the line’s not doing theirs,” he said.

All agreed the best part of the success has been showing up nay-sayers, as the Eagles, coming off a 1-9 year, had few seniors,

“It makes us feel good,” Moore said. “A lot of people said we weren’t going to do good because we lost lots of players. We just came ready to work this year.”

And with the core of the team so young, Hertenstein said the team will only get better next fall.

“That’s the cool thing,” he said. “Everyone knows we’re doing well. If we get the job done, everyone knows we have a chance to do something really special next year.”

But there’s still work to be done this year too, he added.

“First, we’ve just go to stick with this year,” Hertenstein said. “We know we can have success in the playoffs. We know we’re a good football team.”

Keeping that confidence will be key, Hamblet said.

“Right now I think it’s attitude, keeping that attitude up,” he said. “And focus on how we go about business and practice.”

Klahowya will travel to Adna this weekend for a non-league game with the Pirates (8-0 in 2B Central League play). After that, the Eagles will play either Steilacoom or a familiar opponent in Fife in the state preliminary round.

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