Before meeting newly-hired Centralia High School football coach Jeremy Thibault, Jose Pineda had done his homework.
He knew Thibault, a 1996 Centralia graduate, was coming off a very successful run coaching at Toledo, guiding the Indians to the 2B state playoffs in each of the last three seasons with two of those trips ending in the state semifinals.
Thibault likes to keep things on the ground – a trait Pineda, one of the Tigers’ top returning running backs, loves.
“You watch the type of offense they ran (at Toledo) and it was made for running backs to get a lot of yards,” Pineda said with a grin. “The minute I saw that I thought, ‘Okay. This is for me.’”
Turnout, as well as enthusiasm, is sky high at Centralia with the introduction of Thibault this season as the Tigers saw an uptick in players this summer – albeit many are giving football a try for the first time.
“I think two of them played football last year,” said Thibault, pointing out a group of players who were participating in a 7-on-7 passing drill during the first full-contact practice. “The three defensive linemen are all new too. Two are seniors who are wrestlers, but none of them have turned out (for football) before.”
It’s been a concentrated effort for Thibault and his staff to get as many athletes who play other sports out on the gridiron, and they have proven to be successful with it as the Tigers had approximately 130 kids in the four grades combined show up for practice.
“We’ve been beating it like a dead horse,” Thibault said. “We have all worked together to get these kids out.”
One player Thibault already knew was in the mix was Pineda, and he had plans for the 5-foot-8, 180-pound back well before the start of summer practice.
“When I was interviewing for the job,” Thibault said, “I watched a lot of film on the team. He runs hard. He’s very elusive. We plan on doing a lot of different things with him.”
Three years ago at Toledo, Thibault had the same approach with running Taylor Hicks, who flirted with the all-time state rushing record, finishing with more than 2,300 yards on the ground, before the Indians’ season ended following a semifinal loss to rival Napavine.
“He plays bigger than he actually is,” Thibault said about Pineda. “He’s not so much a smash-mouth type running back. We want to get him out in space. We do have a couple fullbacks that we want to set the tone. Once teams start keying on those guys it really opens things up for our wings even more. I’m coming from a fullback/quarterback dominated running team where the wings complimented them. Here, that may be reversed. We’re going to run three, four guys at you. You can’t stop them all.”
It’s certainly a new approach for Pineda and his teammates, but one they’ve already embraced.
“Coach came in and said we will play fast, strong and way different than we have before,” Pineda said. “We started off a little slow, but as time moved along we started to figure things out and now we’re just clicking.”
According to Pineda, things started to really turn positive for the Tigers at team summer camp and by the time pads were put on the entire team was ready to go. In fact, they were almost a little too overzealous for their new coach’s liking.
“The kids wanted to come out and hit today, and destroy each other,” Thibault said about the first day of contact. “We told them hopefully this is going to be a long season. Let’s condense it down a little. We’re not trying to beat anyone up. We’re not trying to build the city in one day.”
Another aspect Pineda said the team immediately embraced about the new staff was the fact that seven coaches are from Centralia.
“This staff knows what it takes to win and we’re ready to follow them,” Pineda said. “Everyone is on board. We want to get after it. We’re putting the work in and really excited to get the season started.”
Added Thibault, “It was almost like a calling for us to be back here (to Centralia High School) and get these kids back on track. We want to hang some more banners in this stadium. That’s our objective.”
The Tigers are coming off a 3-6 season where they opened the year with consecutive victories before going 1-6 in their final seven games, including a 0-5 mark in 2A Evergreen Conference play.
Centralia opens the season on August 31 when they travel to Longview to play R.A. Long. The Tigers will play their home opener against Mark Morris on September 8.