PASCO — To understand the successes of Kamiakin running back Tuna Altahir, one must realize that the end of the 2018 season was, to him, a low point.
It wasn’t necessarily the team’s 6-5 season, in which it was the Mid Columbia Conference’s top 3A finisher before bowing out of the state tournament in the first round as a 15-seed. Altahir knew he had to hold himself to a higher standard.
“I didn’t like how my season ended, so I just kept going hard to get better for this year,” Altahir said. “I didn’t like the way I performed. I just felt like I could have done better.”
That drive that pushed Altahir, or “Big Tuna” as his teammates call him, landed him in the weight room right without a break after his sophomore season ended. Now, as a junior, he’s reaping the benefits.
Altahir, a third-year starter, leads the MCC in yards (1,216), yards per carry (7.6) and touchdowns (14) and has been perhaps the most reliable part of Kamiakin’s high-scoring offense. That’s also come with a cost, as opposing defenses are specifically prioritizing schemes to thwart his production. In a 10-7 loss to Chiawana, Altahir was bottled up by nonstop blitzes, forcing the Braves to go to the air.
But before Tuna’s name made headlines, before he put the state on notice with his junior campaign, Kamiakin head coach Scott Biglin recalls seeing Altahir as a standout on the middle school team with athleticism and stature that clued him into the fact that perhaps one day he’d be a feature back on Kamiakin’s varsity team.
“He’d touch the ball seven times and score seven touchdowns,” Biglin said.
As a freshman he ran for 764 yards and nine touchdowns and as a sophomore he amassed 840 yards and 11 touchdowns. He earned second team all-league honors each year.
Entering his junior season, he had college football on his mind and knew he needed to take the next step. Altahir upped his lifts per week, which crescendoed with five per week over the summer. He worked with a track coach in the spring on his running form, which is partly why despite gaining 15 pounds of muscle — he’s 6-foot and a sturdy 215 — Altahir has also gotten a step faster.
“His weight room work ethic was off the charts,” Biglin said.
And he noticed a different almost immediately.
“During spring ball I was like, ‘oh wow,’ ” Altahir said. “When we started hitting I felt so much more powerful, I could explode more.’ “
Opposing coaches have taken notice, too. Chiawana coach Steve Graff said this year Altahir runs harder and has been noticeably harder to take down, seldom hitting the turf on first contact.
Though he’s without an offer, his recruiting has picked up steam. He’s heard from several Pac-12 schools.
For now, Kamiakin’s postseason prospects hinge in large part on Altahir’s ability to produce, just has he has for much of the season. To preserve his body, Biglin limits the amount of hits he takes in practice
“He’s taking a beating every game,” Biglin said. “We look at his wear and tear, he has a big future ahead of him.”
NO QUESTION WHO IS CLEAR FAVORITE IN 1A, 1B
The stage was set for the 1B state title game rematch at Odessa High School in what would be the Tigers’ toughest challenge of the regular season.
Quickly, recalling shades of last December in the Tacoma Dome, Odessa boat-race No. 2 Almira-Coulee-Hartline 92-6 to extend its winning streak to 21 games despite its starting quarterback Camden Weber missing the game with a concussion. It led 64-6 at halftime.
As Odessa trounces through opponents at what appears to be at a higher clip than last year, the team has made clear their mantra all season: do not let off the gas pedal against anybody.
“Just play the game as hard you can every single play,” Nelson said. “That’s the first thing we look at when we go to film. Are you taking plays off? Are you relaxing? It’s contagious, kids don’t want to be the one kid in film. In 8-man you can’t hide kids out there.”
Odessa isn’t the only team as an established clear title favorite in its classification. The Royal Knights have been on a similar tear at the 1A level.
No. 1 Royal (8-0) has shut out its last four opponents by a combined 206-0 and has posted six shutouts entering a Week 9 matchup against College Place.
That begs the question: Will either team be genuinely challenge within their own classifications?