2023 Prep Football Preview - Shelton
Shelton ready for next step
August 31, 2023
After the 2022 Shelton Highclimbers made it to the crossover round, which was a step beyond where they were in 2021, Shelton is looking to take that next step and make the field of 16 for the 2A state tournament.
It will be tough, as head coach Mark Smith recognizes they are replacing a lot of important seniors from last year's team.
"We also understand where we're starting from isn't where we're going to be at the end, so we're going to have a huge opportunity to get better," Smith told the Journal. "We really like our athleticism this year. We really like our strength, I think our strength is pretty good and when I say that, it's probably the best it's been since I've been here as far as our speed and our strength. The job coach Monroe has done in the weight room and the job, the effort the kids have put in has been really good from that standpoint. Obviously, you're never as far ahead as you want to be this time of year."
One of those seniors he has to replace is former quarterback Mason Goos, who is now playing at Pacific University in Oregon. Wyatt Depoe was the backup last year but there is a quarterback competition between him and converted from wide receiver senior Gabe Menefee and senior Tyler Conklin. Smith said Gabe is the starter as of now but he thinks Depoe will be taking meaningful snaps this year.
At running back, senior Jayden Fuller will get the bulk of the work. Junior Hunter Leth and senior Brad Eveland will also see some carries. Omar Zepeda, Weetly Cordova and Bishop Manning will line up on the outside to catch some passes from the quarterback.
The offensive line has size, according to Smith, averaging around 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds across the line.
Smith said his defense has length and speed, headlined by senior Jerome Gouley, whom Smith called one of the best defensive ends in the league. Leth will also be back at linebacker coming back after a 100-tackle season.
"It's the fastest defense we've had since I've been here," Smith said.
When asked about who has stepped up as a leader this year, Smith didn't know who to point to.
"That's probably our weakness right now is where is that leadership going to come from because last year's group was so strong, our three captains are Gabe Conklin and Trevor Rodeback and JJ Miller, but they've got to get better at being a captain," Smith said. "Your captains don't have to be your leaders. Anybody can lead, it just doesn't have to be your captains."
One of those players looking to be a leader is senior Jayden Fuller. He said this is the most physical team he's seen in a while and the fastest team he's been a part of.
He said the team expectations are to go further than last year and make it to the state round of 16. Fuller said his personal goals are to reach at least 200 yards in a game.
Fuller said he likes to lead by example and vocally.
"Running backs, they know I'm vocal, but as a team, I'm more of an example person," Fuller told the Journal. "The rest of the league, I'm not too worried about. Honestly, I think we got those two teams personally and I don't think they're ready for us. This new team is fast, physical and I don't think they're ready."
Shelton broke through the Kansas tiebreaker last year but ultimately lost 38-34 to Washougal. Fuller said that loss still stings. Shelton was the only Evergreen Conference team to not win its crossover game.
"Especially because I think there was a bad call on the Climbers part but other than that, it was just a good game and a tough loss," Fuller said.
Shelton begins the season with North Mason in Belfair. The Highclimbers won the Battle of the Axe 39-18 last season in Shelton.
"We're ready to keep the ax, we're ready to keep the cup and we're ready to beat the Bulldogs," Fuller said.
Fuller said it has hit him that this is his final year in a Shelton uniform.
"When I realized it was my last first practice in high school, I was so sad," Fuller said. "I went home and I was just telling my mom, I can't believe I've come this far as a Climber and it hit different."
Fuller said he hopes to play in college but hasn't received any offers just yet.
Smith said his goal is to stay out of the Kansas tiebreaker game this year after playing in it for the past two seasons and win the third spot outright.
"I'm hoping so. I feel like we're a year behind every year. I feel like two years ago, we should have been in the play-in game," Smith said. "Last year, I felt like we should have been in the state tournament. This year, how far can we get so I feel like we're a year behind from where we really should be but that's a good goal for us."
It is Smith's fourth year as head coach and he feels his culture is coming along.
"The upperclassmen really understand it, start to get it a little bit. The staff has got to get it. The boosters, the community, I think they know what we're about now and there's some trust there, things like that, and there's some stability," Smith said. "I think it's coming, yes."
Smith said the team has set steps to reach as opposed to an overarching goal, and the first of those steps is to win the first game against North Mason on Friday.
Fuller said he is going to miss playing with his senior classmates and the entire Shelton roster, but they are all on the same page when it comes to one thing.
"These boys are my life and I'm going to miss them all. Words can't explain how much I love these guys."