In Erik Wiker's world, creeds are important. One of them is: Expect to win.
"We had to teach the players that," said the fifth-year coach at Sequim High School, elevating his voice as his players chant the school fight song at practice last week. "It all starts with expectations."
In four years after taking the school's football program reins from coach Bill Anderson, the Wolves have come to expect to win, and win often. Sequim is undefeated in league contests since Wiker's rookie year in 2004, racking up 20 Olympic or Nisqually League victories and a 35-9 overall mark.
One thing has eluded the Wolves, however: their first win in the state playoffs.
If they get it this year, it will be with a brand new starting quarterback at the helm. Last year's starter Nic Thacker and family moved to Longview, opening the position for backup Chris Pruden and junior varsity starter Drew Rickerson.
Pruden, an atypical signal caller at just 5-foot-7 and 145 pounds, gives the Wolves a scampering QB who can throw and run with skill; Rickerson is more of a traditional pocket passer at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds.
Wiker expects the two to have a healthy competition for the starter's role and said he may use them both since the two differ greatly in style. The Wolves may need the change of pace, since the two have all of three passes combined in varsity action.
"I definitely think they're both capable," Wiker said. "They're competing, but not in a bad way."
Despite his limited varsity experience in 2007, Pruden is no stranger to the position. He played quarterback in California's youth leagues for seven years before coming to Sequim.
Pruden says the competition for the starting spot is a good-natured one.
"(Drew) is a good friend of mine. If I'm doing something wrong, he'll give me advice, and I'll try to help him," Pruden said. "There are things that he can do that I can't, and there are things I can do that he can't."
For his part, Rickerson is excited for the competition. He said he draws inspiration from his favorite college team's quarterback, Heisman winner Tim Tebow of Florida.
"I base my athletics on what he does," Rickerson said.
The Wolves have a number of running backs lined up to take the load of carries - Travis Decker, Isaac Yamamoto, Brad Wolfe, Joey Gish, Joey Hall - but the stars of this team on the offensive side are the ones in the trenches. Sequim returns four of five starters on the line in Thomas Gallagher, Colin Kahler, Jake Dethlefsen and Roman Turner, plus the return of 355-pounder Vinnie Cadden, who missed most of last year with a knee injury. Kevin Beck and Ryan Woods figure to see plenty of time on the o-line as well.
"Our linemen are amazing - they give us all day to throw," Pruden said.
That line hopes to make up for the loss of two graduating senior backs (Chris Riggs and Kincaid Nichols) who combined for more than 2,100 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns and 75 percent of the Wolves' offense.
If the Wolves turn to the air this season, the receiving corps has plenty of talent, Wiker notes, with John Textor, Clancy Catelli, Reed Omdal and Alex Gillis in the mix.
Sequim's defense allowed just 17.3 points per game in 2007 and just 13.3 points in league games.
The Wolves hope to continue to shut down opponents at the line of scrimmage with captains Gallagher and Kahler at tackle, and Dethlefsen, Beck and Jeremie Oliver at end positions.
The Wolves lost leading senior tacklers Riggs and Jared Williams, both linebackers, but Woolf (51 tackles in 2007) and Catelli (50) figure to make up the difference, along with Yamamoto, a sophomore who impressed coaches in summer camps with his pursuit.
Omdal and Gillis anchor the secondary, while Gillis (three blocked field goals) and Pruden figure to make an impact on special teams.
"Kids will step up; they all want to succeed," Wiker said. "You just have to give them a chance."
Back to the Nisqually
Sequim returns to the Nisqually League for the 2008 season, a league they played in from 2001 to 2005. That means visits to Olympic League 3A foes Peninsula and Bremerton are out, and battles against Tacoma-area 2A opponents like Fife and Washington are in.
The Wolves kick off the season against a pair of division rivals, both on the road; Sequim travels to Forks to play the 1A Spartans Sept. 5, then battles Port Angeles at Civic Field on Sept. 12.
Sequim then plays three consecutive home games against familiar Nisqually League foes Cascade Christian (non-league game) and Steilacoom, and former Olympic League enemy Klahowya.
Other home games include North Mason on Oct. 17,
Sequim's homecoming, and the season-ending contest against Fife Nov. 7.
"Everybody's going to be tougher," Wiker said.
Fife (5-1 in league, 10-2 overall, Nisqually champs) and Steilacoom (5-2, 5-4) may provide Sequim's stiffest competition this season, although Wiker said Klahowya is bringing back all but one starter this season. The Eagles (3-3, 5-5) nearly knocked off Sequim twice last season, losing by four points and three points.
"I think we've got a great chance (to win league)," Rickerson said. "The teams in the league are tougher, but we're tough, too."
Despite a 2-4 mark in postseason games since 2004, the Wolves seem to be gaining momentum: Sequim qualified for the class 2A state playoffs in 2006 for the first time since 1978 and lost to the eventual state champs. Last season, the Wolves were just two minutes from their first win before falling to heavily-favored Tumwater, 22-20.
"We're going to win state," Pruden said. "That has to be what everyone is thinking."
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