By Gail Wood
Before they could become league champs in football, before they could beat rival Raymond and before they could make it to the playoffs, North Beach needed to learn Todd Bridge’s three “R’s” – respect, resilience and responsibility.
“The focus was more on building the inner character of the athlete,” said Bridge, the North Beach head football coach for the fourth season.
Preparing to win was as important as wanting to win.
“I’m a believer that if you can fix what’s inside their chest, their heart, working on words like resiliency, respect, responsibility, then all the other stuff is easy,” Bridge said.
By taking care of the character factors, North Beach has taken care of its opponents. After beating Tacoma’s Life Christian 38-6, North Beach improved to 8-0 and clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and at least a tie for the Pacific League championship.
“Once you fix what’s inside, you don’t have to nag them to get into the weight room,” Bridge said. “You don’t have to nag them to be at practice. You expect 100 percent participation in practice.”
North Beach had zero issues with kids missing practice.
“We have very high expectations, very demanding and a lot of hard work,” Bridges said.
The hard work has shown in their improving record. The team recorded 3-7 in 2011, 4-6 in 2012 and 7-3 to place second in the Pacific League last year. Expectations were high coming into the season. Now, North Beach is undefeated and ranked third in state.
“We were definitely expecting a great season this year,” said Caleb Bridge, North Beach’s all-league left tackle and son of Coach Bridge. “Everyone on the team has been working really hard. This is the most seniors we’ve had on the team in one year in a long time.”
Of those six seniors who have started since they were freshmen, two – Caleb Bridge and Daniel Fruh – are the cornerstones of a college-sized offensive line. Caleb, an all-state lineman last season, is 6’4″, 250 pounds, and has a scholarship offer from the Air Force Academy to play football. Besides his knack for blocking, he’s also doing well in the classroom and has a 4.0 GPA. His last “B” on a report card came in grade school.
“School is important,” Caleb said.
Filling out North Beach’s starting offensive line is Caleb’s brother, Seth Bridge (6’4″, 250, sophomore) at left tackle, Fruh (6’5″, 290) at right tackle, Tim Poplin (6’3″, 300, junior) at left guard, Caleb at right guard, and Alex Horn (6’1″, 230) at center. Horn is the “smallest” of that crew. Fruh, a state heavyweight wrestling champ, has the agility and power to be a plow-blocker.
“One of our favorite plays is the wedge,” Caleb said. “We run it effectively. We form a wedge and we push people down the field. There’s not a team we’ve played yet that can stop our wedge.”
North Beach’s run to the playoffs began 10 years ago when some of the kids played on the same youth football. For a lot of these players, especially the seniors, Bridge is the only head football coach they’ve known.
“I’m guessing a third of them were on my little league baseball team starting in third grade,” Coach Bridge said.
And for Caleb and Seth, their head coach is also their dad. On the practice field, Caleb refers to Coach Bridge as “Coach,” not “Dad.”
“It’s good,” Caleb said about having his dad as a head coach. “It’s the only way I’ve had it. So, I don’t know what it would be like if he wasn’t.”
It’s not like Todd doesn’t know football and about blocking. He was a lineman on the 1991 University of Washington football team, the one that shared a national championship with Miami.
“He helps a lot with technique,” Caleb said.
Accompanying North Beach’s wedge-blocking offensive line, is a talented backfield.
“We’ve got the size and the speed,” Coach Bridge noted.
With four solid running backs with speed to burn, Bridge platoons at that position, keeping fresh legs in the backfield by platooning throughout the game. Seniors Elijah Towery and Jordan Chong share the starting role with juniors Saul Gonzales and Skyler Wells platoon at running back. Cameron Keller plays fullback.
“All four of them are very lethal carrying the football and they can score at any time,” Bridge said. “Our fullback can flat out run. He’s an athlete as well.”
Six seniors have started since their freshmen year. With 32 on the roster, North Beach has had enough players to play junior varsity games.
Bridge’s assistant coaches are James Vogler, a Marine, Hugh Wyatt, a long-time coach who has coached in the old USFL, and Derek Archer, who played quarterback at North Beach.
“I’ve been blessed to have a great staff,” Bridge said. “James’ conditioning workouts are extremely strenuous. Hugh has coached more seasons than I’ve been alive. I feel I’ve got a pretty strong knowledge of the game of football, but he’s probably forgotten more about football than I know.”
Now, North Beach is heading into the playoffs and is ranked in state. They beat rival Raymond 12-6 in overtime to pick up their first win in the past eight games against the Grays Harbor team. That’s something no one anticipated three years ago.
“If you were to have asked me as a freshman or a sophomore if we would ever be ranked third in state, I’d have said no,” Caleb said. “I didn’t think we’d ever make it that far. My junior year and now my senior year I’ve seen how we’ve picked up and how we’ve improved and how all the hard work has paid off.”
The winning is contagious. Now, everyone at North Beach is excited and pep assemblies are rocking.
“I’ve never seen the school this excited about a sport before,” Caleb said.