New Faces in New Gridiron Places
FOOTBALL: New Coaches in Rochester, Mossyrock Seek Early Success
By Matt Baide
The greater Lewis County area has five new prep football coaches this season, inheriting programs in various stages of development.
Centralia hired former Toledo coach (and Tiger alum) Jeremy Thibault, and Thibault’s assistant coach Mike Christensen took over a Toledo squad that went 13-1 last year. Cary Nagel, meanwhile, moved from directing Franklin Pierce’s high-scoring offense to leading a Tenino team with new turf and a 3-6 record last year.
In Rochester, John Moorhead is hoping to bring a bit of regularity to a program on its third coach in three years, and in Mossyrock Irvin Stevenson is enjoying leading the Vikings.
Moorhead takes over a Rochester team that’s taken its lumps in recent years. The Warriors went 0-9 under one-year coach Mark Smith in 2016 after joining the tough Evergreen 2A Conference.
Moorhead, though, hopes to stay with the Warriors for a significant period of time.
“(It’s) a lot of turnover for them. It’s like their third time going through a new offense, a new defense,” Moorhead said. “They’re starting to pick it up and be comfortable and we can start focusing on technique and stuff like that. It’s going well, from that standpoint.”
Moorhead had coaching stints at Spanaway Lake and Curtis. He was most recently the defensive and special teams coordinator at Steilacoom, helping the Sentinels hand Tumwater its only regular-season loss by a 33-23 margin.
Moorhead actually started his prep coaching career in Pullman, where he was a tight ends coach under current W.F. West coach (and, coincidentally, former Rochester head coach) Bob Wollan.
The Rochester job was appealing for a few reasons.
“It was a one-high-school-district. I grew up in a one-high-school-district and I like that the entire community is focused on one thing,” Moorhead said. “It’s a big school with a smaller town atmosphere, so that was attractive to me. … I liked the athletic director (Jerry Striegel), I liked what the community had to say. There’s a lot of want to here. I don’t know the reasons in the past why it has or hasn’t worked out, but there’s a lot of want and desire.”
Mossyrock’s new head coach comes in with an interesting mix of football experience and knowledge. Irvin Stevenson has taken over for Jason Cole, who coached for two years.
“I love it, the facilities, the people. I’ve had people going out of their way to help me,” Stevenson said. “Whenever I need anything, they are on it like that. You can’t beat it.”
Stevenson signed with the NFL’s New York Jets in 1976 and played under Lou Holtz. He also had stints with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers before retiring due to recurring injuries.
“I had some remarkable coaches, and I learned the game a lot along the way anyway, but being around those dudes and being around freaking good players, the game just comes to me,” Stevenson said. “I don’t need to be on the sideline with no big ol’ billboard and everything. I don’t need all that stuff. I can figure it out on the go.”
Stevenson coached at Capital High School until his son Tevyn — now an assistant coach at Whitworth, his alma mater — graduated in 2013. He spent two seasons at Decatur in Federal Way as a defensive coordinator, and helped coach Mossyrock’s girls basketball team last winter.
“We’ve had to just start from the basics and work our way up and that’s all we’re doing, just teaching the basic stuff,” Stevenson said. “We’re not running anything fancy, we’re not doing anything fancy on defense — just hard nosed football, and these guys are picking it up. I love it, absolutely love it.”
Both coaches will look to start off the season with a win next Friday. Rochester opens the season at rival Tenino in the Scatter Creek Showdown, while Mossyrock hosts East Lewis County rival Morton-White Pass. Both games are nonleague.
Lewis County’s other three new football coaches for the 2017 season
New coach: Jeremy Thibault
Last seen: Thibault, a 1996 Centralia HS grad, coached Toledo for the past five years, going 40-15 and reaching the state semifinals twice
2016 recap: Centralia went 3-6 (1-5 Evergreen 2A Conference) under former coach Matt Whitmire
New coach: Cary Nagel
Last seen: Nagel, a Shelton native, spent the last two years as the offensive coordinator at Franklin Pierce, which went 9-2 in 2016
2016 recap: Tenino went 3-6 (0-4 1A Evergreen League) under former coach Tim Bullus
New coach: Mike Christensen
Last seen: Christensen, a 2000 Toledo HS grad, was the quarterbacks/defensive backs coach at his alma mater last season
2016 recap: Toledo went 12-1 under former head coach Jeremy Thibault, losing to Napavine in the state semifinals