As a first-year coach with a young team, Matt Keeler knows he’s going to lean heavily on his limited number of seniors to help guide those underclassmen.
There were two who immediately jumped to the forefront as being capable of filling those shoes for Naches Valley — offensive line anchors and defensive stalwarts Colton Ollie and Cody Davis.
“First and foremost, their leadership,” Keeler said when asked the pair’s top traits. “That peer leadership. Kids tend to listen to each other better than they do the coaches (and other adults).”
Three-year, two-way starters and four-year players in the program, both Ollie and Davis understand that their leadership will be as important as their play on the field this fall — a message delivered to the them and the other seniors-to-be when Ty Kime told them shortly after last season that he was stepping down as head coach.
“Coach Kime … talked about us stepping up and leading,” Ollie said.
Keeler, who was the Rangers offensive coordinator last season, has watched first hand as both players have already started to do that, singling out Ollie when the team went to a football camp in June.
“He took it upon himself to lead,” said Keeler, noting that Davis missed the camp because of a scheduling conflict. “We took freshmen and he was like a mommy duck with all of them following him around. When he talks, they listen and that’s great.”
Another way they plan to lead is through their play, with both providing a steady hand on both sides of the ball.
Davis is expected to play left tackle and defensive end, with Ollie manning a guard spot and the important middle linebacker position.
“Cody is one of the smartest football players we have. He’s learned everything very fast and he helps the other linemen,” Keeler said, adding that Ollie has similar traits, particularly on defense. “Inside linebacker calls the plays and he makes sure everyone is lined up in the right spots.”
Those qualities are important, but both said another key component is building a strong team bond, something they learned their freshman year from those seniors, which included Ollie’s brother, Corbin.
“They didn’t take it easy on us,” Davis said.
Ollie agreed, saying, “They toughened us up. Who we are now, they kind of taught us that toughness.”
Something they now want to pass down.
“I just want to play well as a team,” Ollie said. “As a team, just leave it all on the field.”
“It’s a team sport,” echoed Davis. “The power of 11.”