For most head football coaches, the first season at the helm involves a lot of learning, player development, and trial and error. Coaches cultivate game plans and work to form a team culture with …
For most head football coaches, the first season at the helm involves a lot of learning, player development, and trial and error. Coaches cultivate game plans and work to form a team culture with camaraderie among players.
What typically doesn’t come until later on are the wins.
But that wasn’t the case for East Jefferson Rivals Head Coach Tony “Haddy” Haddenham.
In his first year as head coach, Haddenham led his Rivals to a 6-2 regular season record, a playoff berth, and a six-game winning streak along the way.
Growing up in Idaho, Haddenham learned many lessons from his coaches in school, playing many different sports as a youth.
But his biggest love was football. He played the sport for 10 years before eventually becoming a coach. Haddenham coached football for 21 years at numerous levels, and served as Chimacum High’s athletic director before landing the head coach gig for the Rivals. The opportunity gave him the chance to implement his style of football while also growing culture and teamwork along the way.
“As a coaching staff, we just put kids in sports that they’d be able to succeed in,” Haddenham said. “We knew we had the talent to win games.”
With a newly combined East Jefferson team with players from Chimacum and Port Townsend high schools, the head coach encountered adversity while forming a cohesive unit of former foes. Not everyone was sold on the idea of the team merger, but Haddenham remained steadfast in his vision for the team.
“I think a couple challenges were, one, I think maybe trusting me as first-year head coach,” Haddenham said. “There were people that voiced their opposition to the combine, and I talked with people from PT and Chimacum.”
As the former athletic director for Chimacum High School, Haddenham was already familiar with their players, but he had yet to make a full impression on Port Townsend players and parents.
“All the Chimacum dudes, I’ve coached and known since they were young. Having seen the PT players, I guess for a mini season if you will, I knew what they could do,” he said.
He’d coached some of the Port Townsend players in the combined team’s small-scale season in 2020, shortened due to COVID, but parents weren’t quite sold on the Rivals concept yet.
When he met with parents before the season, Haddenham had a question for them.
“I basically asked them a question: ‘What is best for kids?’ Is it playing separately and getting destroyed in every contest we play? Or do we combine and be competitive and be successful?” he said. “The boys answered that question as they started their six-game winning streak.”
In his first full year as head coach, Haddenham — along with assistant coaches Gabe Apker-Montoya, Logan Stegner, Brian Tracer, and Noa Montoya — led East Jefferson to one of their best seasons in recent memory. It was the first playoff appearance for Chimacum High football players since 2010 and the first playoff berth for Port Townsend High players since 2016.
SEASON IN REVIEW
The Rivals were given a rough dose of reality in their season opener after losing a close-fought match against Granite Falls High School, 20-19. The second game a week later wasn’t any better as EJ dropped its game against perennial opponents Port Angeles High in a 35-7 blowout loss.
“Going into Port Angeles, I think the kids were already kind of beat. They found out [Port Angeles] had four All-American kids on the team,” the coach said. “It was the first week of school, which was hard to turn school off and football on.”
Confidence was low among EJ players after the Port Angeles loss but they found redemption through their defense in a narrow 9-7 victory over South Whidbey High.
The Rivals were starting to find their form as they prepped to face Vashon Island High School in the fourth game of the season, and first Nisqually League matchup.
“That’s where the tide changed; the boys played solid football from then on out,” Haddenham said. “I think it was the way that the players responded to that win in South Whidbey … things finally clicked, and we can do this.”
If the South Whidbey matchup was the rising action of EJ’s story, the game against Vashon Island was the climax, as the Rivals stuffed their opponents on the defensive side with a sound effort on offense to win with a 19-0 shutout.
“We just played stellar defense against Vashon,” the head coach said.
With the defensive foundation and a high-powered, smash-mouth offense, the Rivals ripped through their competitors. They beat Cascade Christian, Bellevue Christian, Life Christian, and Klahowya High to finish the regular season with six victories in a row, and then the Rivals remained undefeated in district matchups.
Since the Vashon game, “We only gave up 32 points in league play,” Haddenham recalled. “I didn’t reinvent the wheel, I just believed in their athletic ability, and putting athletes in spots to be successful.”
At the end of the regular season, the Rivals routed all Nisqually League opponents to secure the league title with an undefeated record in conference play and a 6-2 record overall.
EJ’s toughest test of the season came in the first round of the playoffs against an undefeated Eatonville High School team. The Rivals’ season came to a sobering end as they were blown out by Eatonville 58-0.
Although the loss was a tough end to EJ’s football season, Haddenham, the coaching staff, and players hope to grow from the defeat and continue their success into next year.
COACH OF THE YEAR
As a result of a great season that defied the expectations of many, Haddenham was awarded Coach of the Year for the Nisqually League.
The coach looked back at his gut reaction to hearing about the league recognition, feeling surprised and totally in shock, Haddenham said.
“To be awarded coach of the year, I’m honored absolutely. It was a team and coach effort.”
The head coach thanked the players and coaching staff for being such crucial parts of the winning season, making sure to highlight offensive coordinator Noa Montoya, defensive coordinator Apker-Montoya, along with assistant coaches Stegner and Tracer.
“They were as much of a part of our winning season as I was,” Haddenham said. “Looking to the future, we’re gonna built upon our success.”
Haddenham and company are already eagerly awaiting next year. They will have to lean on their younger players considering that the team will be losing 15 seniors at the end of the year.
“We’ve got kids who will step up as seniors next year as well as the sophomores to be juniors,” he said. “They’ll be asked to play a more active role.”
In the off-season, Haddenham expects his players to hit the weight room together and build strength as a unit while he plans to host more skill camps for players to develop their fundamentals and athleticism.
CAMARADERIE AND COMMUNITY
Beyond the football field and weight room, the coach wants to continue developing his team culture and players as upstanding members of the community and great students.
“I expect kids to turn out and be productive and good citizens; that stems from being together as a team,” Haddenham said. “I think that in itself needs to be one of those expectations that they abide by.”
For many players, football is more than just a sport; it’s a catalyst for stability, cooperation, teamwork, and responsibility.
Haddenham’s coaching style allows for taking responsibility and learning to cooperate as a team member while also having an enjoyable experience.
Between the hard-nosed, direct style and the more relaxed approach to coaching players, Haddenham sees himself as somewhere in the middle.
“My [coaching style] is a mix of both being firm, but also allowing the players to have fun in practice,” he said. “That’s why they play the sport, to have fun. There’s a fine line between being a hard case and being firm.”
Haddenham is eager for the 2022 season, but at the end of the day, he wants his players to find success beyond just the football field.
“That one thing that I expect is that they are good citizens on the field, off the field, and in the classroom,” he said of his players. “How you interact with others, being responsible, those are things that will carry you through life.”
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here