Washougal Panthers are no longer other teams’ gimme game

Paul Valencia
Paul Valencia

WASHOUGAL — The guys with the ball get the yards, the touchdowns, the glory.

The guys up front get them there.

The Washougal Panthers believe they have the best football team the program has had in more than 15 years. Here’s why:

Jackson Lindell missed most of last season due to a knee injury and yet he still has started 12 football games in his varsity career.

Four of the five offensive linemen have started at least nine games in their varsity careers. That experience leads coach David Hajek to believe this could be one of the best seasons in years for Washougal. Photo by Paul Valencia
Four of the five offensive linemen have started at least nine games in their varsity careers. That experience leads coach David Hajek to believe this could be one of the best seasons in years for Washougal. Photo by Paul Valencia
Aidan Bristol is another of the many experienced offensive linemen for the Panthers. He also was an all-league defensive lineman a year ago. Photo by Paul Valencia
Aidan Bristol is another of the many experienced offensive linemen for the Panthers. He also was an all-league defensive lineman a year ago. Photo by Paul Valencia

Aidan Bristol has started the past 14 games.

In fact, four Washougal linemen have at least a year’s worth of starting experience.

Perhaps that is why coach David Hajek said these Panthers have a chance to be special.

“Coaches usually say that just to fire up the team,” Lindell said. “I think he said it because it’s a reality. We are one of the best teams to come out of Washougal.”

“I have pretty high confidence going into senior year,” Bristol added. “I feel like I’m pretty strong.”

A starter midway through his sophomore year, Bristol used last year as even more of a learning experience.

“I struggled kind of early. After a few games, I started getting into the flow,” he said.

His struggles mirrored the team.

The Panthers started the 2016 campaign with three consecutive losses. They bounced back and won four of their last five league games (and also got a forfeit non-league victory) and made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

The Washougal Panthers are confident they will be in the race to return to the Class 2A high school football playoffs in 2017.

“A lot of these guys have been starting in this league for two years. They are more and more hungry,” Hajek said. “We have depth, and we have a great sophomore group (behind them).”

 

The Panthers know they are better than last season when they went to the playoffs, but they also know other teams have improved, as well. They just want to keep their eye on the prize and make it a magical season. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Panthers know they are better than last season when they went to the playoffs, but they also know other teams have improved, as well. They just want to keep their eye on the prize and make it a magical season. Photo by Paul Valencia

Hajek and the Panthers understand Hockinson, the defending league champion, also has a ton of talent returning. But Hajek said he would not be surprised at all if his squad was on top of the league by season’s end.

 

Those are strong words for a program that has not won a league title since 2000.

“Everyone thought we were an automatic win for them when they played us,” Bristol said.

“We were seen as the underdogs,” Lindell said. “No one thought we were any good. Sophomore year, we started getting it together. We weren’t relying on just one guy.”

Lindell acknowledged that some fans outside of Washougal might have some “iffy-ness” toward the program. They still are not sure about the Panthers.

“It feels good to finally win games and tell people your team is good,” Lindell said. “Kind of prove everybody wrong.”

Now the Panthers are not anybody’s gimme game.

 

ClarkCountyToday.com reporter Paul Valencia previews all 18 of Clark County’s high school football teams this week with the assistance of photographer/videographer Mike Schultz. On Tuesday, we begin the series with a look at the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League teams. Checkback in coming days for the previews of Class 3A and 2A GSHL and Class 1A Trico League teams as we prepare you for the 2017 high school football season.
Click to view all previews.

“Last year was the first year we could go in, hit them, put some points up on the board,” he said.

 

Plus, all those guys who have played all those games on the offensive line? Most play defense, too. Washougal held opponents to two or fewer touchdowns in three of its four league victories.

“We all come there just to hit,” Lindell said of the defense. “No matter who has the ball, that person is going down.”

Nathan Tofell, an all-league linebacker last season, will anchor that strong defense this season. He also will be in the offensive backfield, spelling Kade Coons, a two-time all-league performer. Coons had a high game of 175 yards rushing last season. He also is a force as a defensive back.

Nick Oakes is a defensive lineman who made all-league. He had to be convinced that football could be good for him, then he proved his coaches right.

Center Jackson Lindell is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Even with those lost games, he still brings more than a season’s worth of starting experience to this campaign. Photo by Paul Valencia
Center Jackson Lindell is back after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Even with those lost games, he still brings more than a season’s worth of starting experience to this campaign. Photo by Paul Valencia

Ian Harris and Mason Armstrong will join with Lindell and Bristol to make it a very experienced group of linemen.

The signal caller is Ryan Stevens. He did not throw much last season, but he ended up with more than 1,100 yards through the air plus he rushed for six touchdowns. Oh, and he’s had another year in the offseason program, a good sign for any quarterback.

The Washougal Panthers expect their stadium to be full as they try field for the community one of the best Washougal teams in years. Photo by Paul Valencia
The Washougal Panthers expect their stadium to be full as they try field for the community one of the best Washougal teams in years. Photo by Paul Valencia

All the Panthers are motivated to prove their coach right, to show that this really is a quality team.

Lindell has extra drive, too. He missed those wins last season after his knee injury.

“You’ve got to go 100 percent at all time. You never know when it’s going to end,” Lindell said. “This is the last year (for the seniors) so it is going to end. Never take a play off.”

That is solid advice for any team on the drive to make the playoffs, on the drive to make believers.

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About The Author

Paul Valencia joins ClarkCountyToday.com after more than two decades of newspaper experience. He became the face of high school sports coverage in Clark County during his 17 years at The Columbian. Before moving to Vancouver, Paul worked at Oregon daily newspapers in Pendleton, Roseburg, and Salem. A graduate of David Douglas High School in Portland, Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving three years as a soldier/journalist. He and his wife Jenny recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. They have a son who has a passion for karate and Minecraft. Paul’s hobbies include: Watching the Raiders play football, reading about the Raiders playing football, and waiting to watch and read about the Raiders playing football.

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