Coming off a breakthrough 2014 campaign, The Dalles Middle School Wildcat eighth graders are primed and poised to take another step forward under head coach Joe Abbas and assistant Jermaine Hisatake.
With the start of the season just 13 calendar days away, the Wildcats have been putting in the necessary work since Aug. 3, as they get ready for a 16-game regular season in the Portland Youth Football and Cheer League.
“I am extremely excited for this upcoming season,” said seventh-grade head coach Paul Beasley. “We begin our second season in league with goals of academic excellence, sportsmanship and daily improvement in the football fundamentals of blocking and tackling.”
Last season, TDMS’ seventh graders went on a late winning streak to advance to the championship game versus Reynolds at Marshall High School in Portland.
In their tilt against the Raiders, TDMS battled toe-to-toe for four quarters and ended up taking a 25-18 loss.
This core group of Gabe Helseth, Caden Mathisen, Ben Nelson, Noah Halloran, Dalles Seufalemua and Opath Silopath are now a year away from making the jump to high school football for games on Friday nights for Riverhawk head coach Steve Sugg.
“We are on the way to achieving the goals we set out as a program this year of academic performance, teaching fundamental football and retaining our players for next year and on to Coach Sugg’s program at TDHS,” Beasley added.
Beasley said the duo of Abbas and Hisatake worked well last season, so having continuity was the emphasis in the official hiring of Hisatake, the defensive coordinator, in a full-time capacity.
“He did a remarkable job with the seventh grade defense last year and we are thrilled that he is now part of our paid staff,” Beasley said of the coordinator.
Paul Vennewitz is set to join the eighth-grade staff along with Abbas and Hisatake, a move Beasley is excited about.
“Troy brings a passion and enthusiasm to our program, as well as coaching experience coaching in The Dalles Youth League,” Beasley said.
Both teams just completed their second week of conditioning practices and will be in full pads over the next two weeks at TDMS from 6-7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Starting its conditioning drills earlier gave TDMS a head start on other teams, so the energy and fervor is there in the trenches.
Added to the seventh grade coaching staff is Jim Taylor and that gives Beasley an extra set of eyes and added experience to his close circle.
“Jim is a highly experienced coach having been a part of the coaching staff of the football, basketball and track programs at TDHS for a number of years,” Beasley said.
In order to do as planned, Beasley and company preach fundamentals on the field and citizenship and education off the gridiron.
Beasley plans on instituting a mandatory study hall before each practice to help make sure grades are maintained for eligibility purposes.
If the coaches can hone in on education, then half the battle is won, he said.
As a former high school and current middle school head coach, he has seen too many student athletes fall by the wayside due to poor grades.
“We are talking about making them better young men for all of the right reasons,” Beasley said of the coaching credo.
“We are more than just wins and losses. Our focus is on getting the program going and emphasizing moral character,” he explained.
Just as the youth programs are doing, the middle school programs will institute the same offensive and defensive terminologies to allow a seamless transition across the board.
Much like speaking a foreign language, once an athlete can soak in and keep all of the information and allow instincts to take over, they will put themselves ahead of the curve.
More than that, however, Beasley believes that the program needs to get back to fundamentals, like blocking and tackling safely.
That is the most important thing the coaches can give these athletes.
“If we can pass on the fundamentals, they can play the sport safely and enjoy what they are doing,” the coach said. “We don’t want them too bogged down with X’s and O’s at the expense of overall enjoyment. If we can play a fundamental style of game, they can be effective and successful.”
Now that the foundation is in place, Beasley has to prepare his team for a tough challenge in the Portland Youth Football and Cheer Conference, which is made of schools that used to be the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL).
Practices start this upcoming week and Beasley emphasized that it’s not too late for middle school football players to join up.
If a player is interested in joining, they need to fill out an athletic form.
Those papers can be picked up at the middle school or from Beasley.
“We hope and encourage all TDMS seventh and eighth graders who want to join our program to come to the TDMS football field during practice times,” Beasley said. “It is not too late.”
For more information about the program, call 541-980-4411.