It’s no secret to regular readers of High School Cover 2 that Jim and I grew up in southwest Washington. Though neither of has lived in that part of the state for many years, we still have a warm spot in our hearts for the area and our fingers faintly on the pulse of what is happening in the world of S.W. Washington high school football. Therefore, we have been curious the last couple of years about what seemed to be taking place in little Naselle, that wide spot on state highway 4 just a few miles north of the Columbia River. There have been good athletes coming out of Naselle over the years, but the school is known mostly for turning out good basketball teams. When we think of Naselle sports, great football teams don’t come easily to mind. That’s not to say that there haven’t been any, it’s just that they appear very infrequently. Now here they are the last couple of years ranked highly in the 1B polls and going to the state playoffs. What’s changed, we wondered? Since it doesn’t take much for us to head down south to our old stomping grounds, we loaded up the wives and took a little trip to Naselle where we were able to speak with Coach Jeff Eaton. We met Coach Eaton at the Oh Carol’s Restaurant/Tavern/iconic meeting place. The Oh Carol’s is, we believe, the only watering hole and eating establishment in Naselle. After growing up in a small town, it’s the kind of place we remember fondly. Jeff works at the Naselle Youth Camp and was kind enough to join us after his workday was complete to talk Naselle football. He was a guard during his playing days and he has an ex-lineman’s demeanor, giving us no nonsense responses to our generic questions below. Not one to waste time unnecessarily, Coach Eaton is clearly the reason why the Naselle football program is on the rise. Below is the result of our interview:
Coach Jeff Eaton, Naselle High School
High School Cover 2: Tell us about your early years. Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school, etc.?
Coach Eaton: I grew up in Naselle and graduated from Naselle High School where I played football. After graduation, I went to Western Washington University where I played football off and on for three years.
High School Cover 2: What was the highest level of football you played?
Coach Eaton: My three years at Western were the highest level.
High School Cover 2: When were you introduced to football and what were your first impressions?
Coach Eaton: I was first introduced to the game in my neighborhood. We played at my parent’s house. Six kids from the neighborhood would come up. I have two brothers and we’d just play. We didn’t really know much about the game, just that we loved it. We had different gear from our favorite pro teams and just played. The seventh grade was the first time I played organized football. It’s still the same. Naselle is too small to have youth teams. I took my kids over to Astoria (Oregon) to play youth league ball and a few others have also done that as well.
High School Cover 2: Did you suffer any serious injuries playing football?
Coach Eaton: At Western I had a dislocated elbow my sophomore year. After that healed, I turned out my junior year and tore a hamstring. I hung it up after that.
High School Cover 2: Did you have a role model growing up?
Coach Eaton: Coaching wise it was Coach Patterson. He coached both football and basketball here. I learned more from him than any other coach I had. I also had him as a teacher. He was a big influence. I still hear from him weekly and we discuss how the team has done. He congratulates me when we win and always tells me what we’ve done right. Also John Dideon, he’s a policeman here in town. He played at Oregon State and for the New Orleans Saints where he was the center for Archie Manning. He was my high school line coach and was a big fiery guy. I got my fiery side as a coach from him and my knowledge of how to coach kids from Coach Patterson.
High School Cover 2: In your opinion, what has been the biggest change at Naselle that allowed the football team to win so many games?
Coach Eaton: Probably a part of it was getting rid of my mentor, Coach Patterson. His basketball teams went to state something like 23 out of 24 years and then 27 out of 32 while he was the coach so it was a basketball community. We just couldn’t get the kids to come out for football. In my class, there were a couple of kids who didn’t play football because they were afraid of getting hurt and missing basketball. Every class had one or two kids like that. We just couldn’t get all the good athletes to play football. Then, in 2005, things started to change. Coach Patterson retired and football became important to the upcoming class of kids.
High School Cover 2: Growing up, was there an athlete that you admired and wanted to be like?
Coach Eaton: Growing up I was a Dallas Cowboy fan. I liked Roger Staubach, Randy White, Too Tall Jones, those types of guys.
High School Cover 2: Why did you decide to coach high school football? Explain how you got the Head Coaching job at Naselle?
Coach Eaton: When I got out of college I got a job working at the Naselle Youth Camp. A friend of mine, Kevin McNulty was coaching at Illwaco and he asked me to come down there and help him as the defensive coordinator. After that, Coach Patterson who was only coaching football at Naselle because no one else wanted the job, asked me if I would take over. Since I already lived here it was an easy decision. After five or six years, I gave up the head coach job to a couple of other guys who wanted it. I still wanted to keep coaching, but working as an assistant was fine. Then five years ago I picked the head coach job back up and have had it ever since.
High School Cover 2: Talk about your current team and your hopes for future success at Naselle.
Coach Eaton: Last year we had about 32 kids turn out. This year we’ll be lucky to have 25. We’ll have the receivers and quarterback back from that team so there’s some hope; plus three seniors and a junior returning to the offensive line; plus a sophomore who’ll be one of the biggest kids on the team. So, I’m hopeful that we’ll still be in the mix. I just don’t think we’ll have the dominating success that we had last year when we ran through everybody. Hopefully, that’ll be a good thing. Last season, we weren’t ever behind until the playoffs and we didn’t know how to play from behind. We started going to the small school summer camp in Warrenton (Oregon) last year and that has helped.
High School Cover 2: What are the challenges coaching at Naselle? Does the school Administration support athletics and, in particular, football?
Coach Eaton: In my time here we’ve gone through a lot of Athletic Directors. Some have been great and others not so much. In the past I’ve sometimes had to spend time getting things ready for the game, instead of getting the team ready. Right now it’s a good situation. Our current A.D. has coached before so he knows what’s to be done. The Superintendent and the A.D. got together and threw a big tailgate party for our playoff game. It was the first home playoff game here forever. Previously our stands didn’t meet WIAA requirements. The school administration has been very supportive.
High School Cover 2: How many assistants do you have? Are there any other problems at your school (money, etc.)
Coach Eaton: I have two paid assistants and one volunteer. None of us work at the school. Myself and the two paid assistants work at the Youth Camp.
High School Cover 2: How is the support from the local community?
Coach Eaton: It’s really good. I finally got them to come over from the dark side (basketball) and realize that there’s something going on before basketball season.
High School Cover 2: Tell us about your family, wife, kids, etc.
Coach Eaton: I have a wife, Amber. We’ll have been married 20 years in August. I have two sons who play football here. One is our quarterback and he also is defensive back. The other one (he was a senior last year) played running back and linebacker. I also have a daughter who is a freshman here. She plays volleyball, softball and basketball.
High School Cover 2: Can you explain your coaching philosophy as it relates to your players? For example, what life lessons do you hope they will gain by playing football?
Coach Eaton: I hope that they will learn that hard work will pay off. And I want them to learn to play the right way according to the rules. Don’t play dirty. Because of social media these days, our players’ opponents often know exactly what’s wrong with our players when they get injured. I’m trying to discourage them from divulging this information to protect them in the game.
High School Cover 2: Did you have a football mentor? If so, who and why?
Coach Eaton: As I explained earlier, Coach Patterson and Coach Dideon were my football mentors.
High School Cover 2: Do you have pay for play at your school? If so, please explain how it works.
Coach Eaton: There is no pay for play yet at Naselle. All a student has to do to be eligible to play is buy their A.S.B. card for $25.00. Most of the schools in our area now have it, but it hasn’t come here yet.
High School Cover 2: How important is strength training and nutrition in your program?
Coach Eaton: We don’t do much with nutrition except to stress the importance of drinking liquids before games. Our weight training program has changed dramatically since I played. Now we have 20 or more kids in the weight room at a time. They’re on each other all the time to do better. The seniors and juniors push each other to improve. In fact, the senior class is still in the weight room pushing the others to get better even though they’ve graduated from football. It’s amazing to me how much harder our kids hit than when I played. I worry about practice sometimes they hit so hard.
High School Cover 2: Have players changed in the years since you first began playing? Have coaches changed in that time?
Coach Eaton: My sons are pretty much doing the same thing that I was doing at their age. They drive up on the logging roads looking for animals, they shoot guns and, on the weekends, they go to Astoria (the nearest big town) to a movie or take their girlfriends out to dinner. I guess the big difference is social media. Except for that, the kids here are about the same as they always were. It’s different here in a small rural community than it would be in a big city. As for the coaches, there’s a big difference from my day – the language, etc. It’s no longer acceptable to curse at players like it was then.
High School Cover 2: Can you explain your coaching preferences and philosophies? Do you prefer to throw the ball or run it; do you like attacking defenses, etc.?
Coach Eaton: I was always a wishbone guy. I liked to pound the ball. We run the option from the shotgun kind of like they do at the University of Oregon. I’ve got a new young coach who previously coached in Oregon who’s helping me out. He’s the one who got our passing attack going. They’ll be starting to work on it again soon this spring and will continue working on the passing game again all through the summer. He got me to buy into the passing game so we now can do both. Throw and pound the ball. Still we run more than we throw. As a defense: before last year we were in a 4-4 and had kids in the gaps and we’d just come. But last year, because I had so many seniors who were big linemen, I wanted to keep them involved so we switched to a 5-man front. We stunted a little bit, but mostly we just had them handle the guy over them. Next year we’ll probably continue with the 5-2. I like to stunt on defense, but it all depends on our opponents. Tacoma Baptist, for example, throws the ball a lot so we have to change gears when we play them.
High School Cover 2: Do you have any interest in coaching at a higher level?
Coach Eaton: Not anymore. When I was younger I thought I might, but I’ve been here a while and I’ve coached my kids which was really great. I like living in a small community and I still love doing what I’m doing.
High School Cover 2: Who was the best football player you ever played against? How about the best ever to play for you?
Coach Eaton: There were a couple I played against in college who later played in the NFL, but the best I ever played against in high school was Bob Rockett from Willipa Valley. As for the best ever to play for me, it would have to be either Ryley Queener our 6’3, 275 pounder from last year or Steve Mattson. Steve played guard for me here and went to Eastern Washington on a half scholarship to play football. He earned a full scholarship his sophomore year and made academic all-American. He made all-Big Sky his senior year.
High School Cover 2: What are your interests outside of football?
Coach Eaton: I hunt. I do a little fishing. This is Naselle, that’s what we do here.