Nobody knows that better than Josh Fluke, the head football coach with Pe Ell High School’s and Willapa Valley High School’s combined football team. There have been some big holes for the PWV Titans to fill this year. “Yep. Teamwork,” Fluke said. “That’s number one.”
With a 4-3 start, coming off impressive wins against North Beach and Chief Leschi by a combined score of 102-0, Fluke saw a number of players go down with injuries. The team lost starters at two key positions – quarterback and running back. Finding backups to fill in as starters has been a valuable ingredient in Pe Ell/Willapa Valley’s potential ride to the playoffs this season.
Max Smith took over for Peter Hamilton at running back, giving the Titans the speed and the power to keep the first-down markers moving. Rotating in at running back are Landin Isaksen and Kollin Jurek, who have kept the ball moving for the team. The Titans haven’t had to rely on just one running back. It’s been a good rotation.
“Since we lost Peter Hamilton, who was a phenomenal running back, people like to key on Max,” Fluke said. “They know he’s going to get the ball. He gets his touches. He gets his yards. Sometimes we use him as a decoy, which helps.”
When Logan Walker broke his collarbone, the Titans lost their sharp-throwing quarterback. He was replaced by Tyler Adkins, a 5-foot-11, 140-pound sophomore. He’s a solid cure to the loss at quarterback. Adkins, with his ability to pass and run, is a double threat.
“He’s got a little of both,” Fluke said. “He runs a good offense. Logan was the star quarterback coming in. We miss him. Tyler is a really smart kid. He throws well. He doesn’t have the long ball like Logan, but I’ll tell you what, he can hit those shorter ones on the money.”
For Fluke, coaching football isn’t just about teaching how to block and how to tackle. When another football practice comes to an end and another season is over, whether Pe Ell High School’s and Willapa Valley High School’s combined football team reaches the state playoffs or not, Fluke knows his players are going to take with them some life lessons.
“I think one of the biggest life lessons they learn is discipline,” Fluke said. “My team is really disciplined. When we’re at practice and you jump offsides, you’re going to have to pay for it. You’re going to have to run. It’s huge for kids today.”
Another life lesson learned is camaraderie and how to work with other people.
“One day you’re going to have a job where you have to work with somebody you might not like,” Fluke said. “But to get the job done, you’re going to have to figure it out. I think that’s a big one too, the camaraderie out there with the team and how the team comes together.”
The team also learns how hard work pays off. It’s a valuable lesson Fluke knows his players will take with them down their life’s journey.
Fluke is no stranger to his coaching staff. Two of his assistant coaches, Greg Wonhoff and John Peterson, coached him when he played high school football back in the 1990s at Willapa Valley High School. Fluke, who started at offensive guard graduated in 1996.
“It’s pretty cool,” Fluke said. “They were my coaches back when I was in high school. We won a championship in ’96.” That was 23 years ago, but Fluke and his coaches carry many of the same how to’s.
“We still do a lot of things that we did when Josh was playing,” Wonhoff said. “He fully understands what we’re trying to do and our philosophy that we’re trying to portray to the kids.”
Peterson and Wonhoff are no strangers to teaching Xs and Os. This is Wonhoff’s 43rd year coaching. And it’s not just the chance to coach how to block that keeps him coming back. It’s not just about wins and losses. For Wonhoff, who retired from teaching elementary school five years ago, it’s the life lessons taught by sports that keeps him coming back to coaching football.
“The kids that are really paying attention, they come away with life lessons that they can carry on and take into parenthood and marriages,” Wonhoff said. “That’s why I’m coaching. I’m there for that. More than for the Xs and Os thing.”
With just a couple of games left in the season, Wonhoff reminds his players to enjoy the moment and make the most of it.
“One of the things I stressed to the kids is don’t take things for granted,” Wonhoff said. “I have a three-word saying I use a lot – Quality time left. Appreciate where you are because it’s going to come to a screeching halt soon. And you’re going to wonder where the time went. So just take it all in while you can.”
For Fluke, it’s been a special moment, a special season. His son, Kolton Fluke and his nephew, Derek Fluke are both freshmen on the team, starting on the JV team.
“It’s really fun. It’s awesome,” Josh Fluke said about coaching his son and his nephew. “Sometimes I think you’re a little harder on your kid and a relative on the team than the other kids.”
Kolton plays running back and linebacker. Derek plays running back and defensive back. “Both of them are going to turn out to be really good football players,” Josh Fluke said. “Both start on the JV team and they’re doing really good.”
And they’re enjoying every play, every minute. It’s the way mighty Titans play.