Tornados focusing on development of young talent ahead of first 4A season

Yelm welcomes 44 freshmen to the team


The Yelm High School football team, coming off back-to-back 3A state championship game appearances, is entering a new era in the 2024 season. YHS athletics advance from 3A to become a member of the 4A South Puget Sound League.

Despite the elevation in competition and new array of league opponents, head coach Jason Ronquillo and his coaching staff are instilling the same level of preparation and focus in spring and summer practices as before.

“We’re excited about the new teams we’re gonna play, but the preparation stays the same. We know the ultimate goal is to get to the playoffs, and then when you get to the playoffs, the goal is to get into Husky Stadium,” Ronquillo said, referencing the location of the 4A state title game. “We’ll try to put a poster up in the locker room of Husky Stadium and say that this is the ultimate goal.”

Ronquillo said the team is excited about playing some new teams after going unbeaten against South Sound Conference opponents over the last four years. He added that the team has circled its week five home contest against Graham-Kapowsin as one of the most important games of the season. Its schedule also includes games against SPSL foes Bethel, Olympia and Spanaway Lake.

“They’re excited to have some competition, and the challenge and change of new names and new faces is exciting for them,” he said of the players.

Ronquillo described the early offseason practices as focusing on the “baby steps” and taking care of the individual work, including helping each athlete become a better technician and player within their roles. He said the coaches are taking these practices to learn about the athletes they have at their disposal and where they can potentially use them within their scheme.

“If we feel like kids need to move to different positions, that’s what spring is all about. This is a time to make moves,” he said. “By the time we get to the fall, the players know where they’re going to play. They know how to fit into our scheme, so it’s all about experimentation with personnel and training them to be really good athletes.”

Ronquillo said he likes the team’s versatility and talent, but depth is a concern at this point of the offseason training program. He added, in order to build depth, developing the young talent is vital. Yelm brings in 44 freshmen to the team, down from 50 freshmen last season.

“Staying healthy is going to be really important. Our focus is always on development, development, development,” he said. “That’s all we ever do.”

Yelm faces a lot of turnover at a number of key positions, including quarterback, running back, and linebacker after the recent graduation of players like Damian Aalona, Marius Aalona, Brayden Platt and Isaiah Patterson. Ronquillo said he likes how the quarterback and wide receiver candidates are battling in practice and the overall competitiveness of his team.

While several positions lack starting experience, Ronquillo cited the offensive and defensive lines as the team’s strengths because of their proficiency.

“We’re not young, but we’re inexperienced at the linebacker and secondary positions. Our veterans really are in the trenches,” he said.

The Tornados are hoping to bounce back from their state title game loss to Bellevue on Dec. 1, one that has left a small chip on the shoulders of the returning veterans.

“They know what the expectation is. They know where we want to go. They know that there’s a lot of work to get there, but I bet there’s a small chip on their shoulder from that,” Ronquillo said of the 14-0 loss at Husky Stadium. “Just being from Yelm, I don’t think you can ever release all of the chips from your shoulder. There’s so many elements of Yelm that keep the chip on your shoulders because everybody always expects less from us, and I’m always excited to give them more.”

Yelm kicks off its football season at 7 p.m.,  Friday, Sept. 6, at home against Mount Tahoma High School.