Justus Kuykendall didn’t expect to see much playing time during Centralia High School’s season opening football game against R.A. Long last year. He was a sophomore in 2017 and this would be his first varsity game so his line of thinking certainly made sense.
As it turned out, however, Kuykendall was called up relatively early in the contest after two of the Tigers’ starting offensive linemen were sidelined with injuries.
Injuries may have initially placed him on the field but hard work and a motor which only knows one speed kept him there.
“I don’t think he’ll come off the field at all for us this year,” said second-year coach Jeremy Thibault about Kuykendall. “We threw Justus in at center (last season). It was just natural. He picked it up immediately and we didn’t have to worry about him at all. Defensively, we started throwing him in and the kid just never stops.”
When the 2A Evergreen Conference coaches got together last year to vote on their all-league team, Thibault went in knowing Kuykendall would be one of the top kids he would try to sell his peers on.
They didn’t need much convincing as Kuykendall was the only underclassmen to receive first-team honors on the offensive line.
“We didn’t know in the spring that he was going to be as good as he was; that transition between freshman and sophomore can be tough,” Thibault said. “But he was just consistent throughout the year for us. He played center. He played guard. He’s a ‘yes sir, no sir’ type kid and just works really hard. If we had 40 of him we’d have no problems.”
Kuykendall, as well as fellow offensive linemen Dominick Aguirre and Colby McCann, have already played large roles this pre-season for the Tigers. More will be asked of them once the season gets rolling as Centralia looks to rebound from a difficult 2-8 campaign, a task each is ready to tackle.
“The culture here is changing,” McCann said. “I don’t think our record (last year) reflected how hard we worked. This team is going to come out and show everybody we’re not last year’s record.”
McCann (6-foot-0, 200 pounds) and Kuykendall (5-10, 200) will start at offensive guards for the Tigers, while Aguirre (5-10, 205) will lock down one of the offensive tackle positions. While their size won’t overwhelm anyone, they make up for it with nonstop energy.
“I just always try to go as hard as I can for as long as I can,” Kuykendall said. “I want to get better every second.”
Kuykendall has set the standard among the team, gaining a reputation of never slowing down in practice or games – a trait that quickly motivated his fellow linemen.
“He has something different inside him,” McCann said about his teammate. “He just goes and goes. He’s never not blocking anybody.”
“He just goes all out,” Aguirre added about Kuykendall. “He’s probably the hardest hitter on this team. I get nervous every time I face him.”
It’s a style of play that’s perfect for Centralia’s Wing-T offense, and one that Thibault will rely plenty on in the always loaded 2A EvCo.
“When [Kuykendall] traps a kid, he punishes them,” Thibault said. “He’s pretty relentless. Eventually that kid is going to get real sick of seeing Justus and start taking plays off.”
Both Aguirre and McCann can relate to this, as they’ve been on the receiving end of Kuykendall’s endless energy at practice on numerous occasions.
“I’m trying to get everyone’s motor going,” Kuykendell said about his non-stop play.
It appears to have worked in regards to Aguirre and McCann, who started playing football together in elementary school, as the two now execute Kuykendell’s approach on the field.
“It’s brought us together more as a brotherhood,” Aguirre said about the three’s dedication to working hard all the time. “I love these two guys. We have a stronger bond than I ever felt in previous teams. I trust these guys. The energy and passion we have makes me comfortable knowing each of us will do our job during games. I have faith in these guys.”
Another comfort and one huge advantage the Tigers have this year over last season is the fact that they are now in year No. 2 of Thibault’s program.
“We had new coaches and a new system last season; it took a while to learn and you don’t have much time before that first game,” said Aguirre, who will also serve as Centralia’s middle linebacker on defense. “It was a lot easier heading into this season. We’re just excited to get back out there on the field.”