The names of Columbia High football’s 2019 opponents and the order of its nine regular-season games are the same; only the locations of the games have changed.
The Bruins open non-league play on Sept. 6 at intra-county rival Goldendale, then host Class 2B Ilwaco on Sept. 13 for their home opener. After that, they play only Southwest District 1A teams: two from the Evergreen League and five from the Trico. The outcomes of those five league games will determine whether CHS advances to the post-season again.
Second-year Bruins Coach Dan Smith said excitement has been building for the 2019 season all summer long. He said he didn’t have to twist arms to get kids into the CHS weight and conditioning room for their off-season workouts; they showed up on their own and put in the reps in preparation for the opening of training camp on Aug. 21.
Columbia returns 22 players with varying degrees of varsity experience: eight two-way starters from a year ago, 13 players who played back-up roles in 2018, and a player who missed his junior season because he was on a student exchange to Turkey. All told, the Bruins have 42 players on their roster going into Columbia’s Week 1 game at Golden-dale. The Bruins beat the Timberwolves 53-0 in last year’s season opener.
“It’s always exciting to play our in-county rivals to open the season,” Smith said. “Our focus all fall has been on a one-week season and that Goldendale is the only team for us to focus on right now.”
The Bruins will carry a primary varsity roster of 20 players (out of 42). Another 10 will dress for both varsity and junior varsity games.
Senior Stanley Hylton and junior Juan Acosta are both in their third varsity campaign together and coming off All-Trico Second Team Offense type of seasons. Hylton (6-2, 190 pounds) will line up at left tackle on offense and weak side linebacker on defense. Acosta (6-2, 280), a tackle on defense, is moving from left guard to center on what Smith believes could be a dominant offensive line.
“Our strength is our offensive and defensive lines,” Smith said. “Everyone on the offensive line started at least one varsity game last year. Our expectation is that we will be able to run the ball effectively and put ourselves in favorable down-and-distance situations.”
Rounding out the offensive line are senior and second-year starter Cody Wharton (5-9, 225) and returning juniors Kegan Brasuell (6-1, 220) and Tristan Williams (6-0, 240). Seniors Todd Dennis (5-10, 195) and Emmit Vincent (5-11, 180), and junior Jose Evangelista (5-11, 205) provide depth.
Second-year starter Austin Charters (5-10, 180) returns at quarterback. Charters accounted for 14 offensive touchdowns (9 passing, 5 rushing) and nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He also is in the mix of players who’ll return kickoffs and punts this season.
“I have high expectations for Austin,” Smith said. “He has many tools on offense.”
Charters will be sharing carries this fall with seniors Cody Colloton, a second-year player, and Bowen Durkee, who is back with the team after a year abroad.
Colloton (6-1, 220) will be lining up at fullback for the first time in his career, while Durkee (6-0, 190) will be taking over as CHS’s featured back in Smith’s run-first spread offense. The Bruins have produced a 1,000-yard rusher in six of the last seven seasons.
This year’s receiving corps will feature senior and second-year starter Alarick Blankenship (5-11, 200) at tight end, junior/second-year starter Elijah Nielsen (6-2, 175) and first-year junior Isaac Wang (6-3, 185) at wide receiver, and senior/second-year starter Zavier Smith (6-0, 165) and returning junior Angel Sanchez (5-6, 140) at slot receiver.
Defensive coordinator Shawn Friese’s base 4-3 defense is anchored by a pair of 2018 All-Trico First Team selections: Colloton at defensive tackle and Charters (team-leading three interceptions) at free safety. The team’s strength on defense, according to Smith, will be its defensive line of tackles Colloton and Acosta and defensive ends Brasuell and Dylan Muehlbauer, a returning junior.
Hylton is heading up an athletic corps of linebackers and will serve as defensive signal caller this year. Durkee will man the middle and Blankenship, a terrific cover man on special teams, will hold down the strong side.
The defensive secondary, particularly as a unit that can prevent big plays in the passing game, is an area of concern the CHS coaching staff is trying to shore up. Nielsen, a returning starter at corner back, will play opposite projected starter Sanchez. Smith is projected to start at strong safety.
“It will be extremely important for us to be able to get off the field on third down, especially in long yardage situations,” Smith said. Other keys for the Bruins this season will be staying injury-free and building depth across the board.
“We need to stay healthy like we did last season,” Smith said. “We have some dynamic players but we’re young at our 2-deeps. Our numbers are much improved over last season, so that should help. If we are able to get young guys game experience in the early part of the season, it will help us as we get into league play.”
Trico League play starts the first weekend of October. The Bruins will open at home against Castle Rock, then finish with Seton Prep, King’s Way, La Center, and Stevenson. 2018 champion La Center and runner-up Stevenson handed CHS its two Trico losses in the last two games of the season.
Smith anticipates the competition for the Trico’s three district playoff berths will be fierce and wide open though “La Center is still the top program in our league.”
“We were very competitive with them last season and the expectation is the same,” Smith said. The Bruins fell to the Wildcats, 35-28, on a last-second touchdown.