Bulldogs brave the summer heat for football fine-tuning

(STAFF REPORTS/Chewelah Independent)

Kettle Falls football turned out a good number players for its summer camp. (Photo by Brandon Hansen)

Kettle Falls coach Loren Finley keeps football on the brain for players…

Eastern Washington is probably best known for its brown lawns in July or August, but it’s the work done during this time that can equal success in the fall months on the football field. It was a typical hot summer day in Kettle Falls last week when the Bulldogs gridiron squad took to the practice field.

“My main objective with summer camp is just to get kids doing something,” Kettle Falls Athletic Director and Football Coach Loren Finley said.

With the first fall practices beginning on August 15, summer camp provides the bridge between spring football and the regular season. While there is a good chunk of kids playing basketball and baseball during this time as well, it allows Finley to get a good picture of what his team will look like next year and plant the seeds of next season into the heads of his players.

“If I get their minds thinking about football, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something,” Finley said.

Northeastern Washington presents its challenges to small programs like Chewelah, Kettle Falls, Springdale, Northport and other small communities. While Colville can afford to lose 4-5 kids and still power on, a drop in manpower like that to a Kettle Falls team could kill the season.

Finley doesn’t like to ask for $225-300 for a summer camp at an area college, and instead holds his team camp up in Kettle Falls. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly and he works on things like passing routes so players will understand what he’s talking about if he calls an out and curl route when fall comes around.

Northeastern Washington has many families that sometimes need the teenagers in the family to help watch over kids or work a summer job. Finley said he saw different kids at both spring and summer camps, but understands that sometimes obligations crop up. The workouts do give him a good gauge on what his numbers will be.

Last year, Kettle Falls began the year with 18 kids, making the margin of error for injury very slim. They had a talented, hard-running squad that had to deal with teams with bigger rosters and depth.

This year, it is looking like the Bulldogs will be able to turn out in the high 20s and low 30s, which is a solid number for 2B. For a team like Chewelah which turned out 36 kids last year, being able to establish any manner of depth has been a big deal.

“It’s tough for a small school when you don’t have key kids that can turn out, such as a QB, center or running back,” Finley said. “So it’s not like we go over schemes a lot, but work on speed and agility and pass routes so when we get into the situation where we use them, the kids can work back to this stuff.”

High school has seen a drop in numbers across the board regardless of classification, but these number drops have affected small programs the most. Kettle Falls and Chewelah can attest to smaller enrollments and smaller football programs. Much like how people live up in NE Washington, these programs get the most out of their resources and continue on the tradition.

“It’s tough because our turnout is smaller, and that’s happened in smaller schools and even bigger schools like Colville have dropped off,” Finley said.

Chewelah’s summer camp was tough to balance with so many players also playing baseball, and through the years has dropped from 2A to 2B. Colville has dropped from 3A to 1A, but still has a vibrant summer camp with about 45 kids showing up.

“Our highwater was 2010 when we had 90 kids,” Colville coach Randy Cornwell said. “We’ve had some declining school enrollment. We were 2A back then and when I came to the school in 1997, we were 3A.”

The Bulldogs this year will continue their hard-hitting ways and Finley said he is really trying to instill a culture of sportsmanship in Kettle Falls. A former Chewelah coach, he said he hopes when the Bulldogs come down to play the Cougars, people see this kind of culture.

“I’m big on discipline, big on sportsmanship, big on having a future within our football team and athletic program in general,” Finley said. “I want a culture in our program that builds kids up and not tear them down.”

He said he wants spectators to say about the Bulldogs, “hard-hitting kids, intense kids but some of the most intense sportsmanship we’ve seen.”

And that process began last week and will continue on August 15. The NFL is known for the slogan “Are you ready for some football?” and it appears programs like Kettle Falls are taking this preparation to heart.