James Stippich hired as new North Thurston football coach

North Thurston High School

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It can’t be sugar coated. It’s been a long time since North Thurston High School tasted football success.

The Rams lost their most recent 15 games. A 20-17 victory over Shelton in October of 2017 is their only conference win in the last six years.

They haven’t had a winning season since the 2012 team finished 9-4, a game behind rival Timberline for the 3A Narrows League title under iconic former coach Rocky Patchin.

North Thurston hired quality coaches to follow Patchin. William Garrow has gone on to become a key contributor to powerhouse Tumwater’s staff as a scouting and analytics guru. Terry Shaw was a consistent winner at Ranier.

But something was missing.

When Shaw resigned, athletic director Steve Coker knew the direction he wanted to go.

“We want to build the program from within, to get buy-in and excitement about football from the overall North Thurston community,” he said.

Part of the goal was finding a current teacher to lead the program from, as educators put it, “in the building.”

Four teachers applied for the job. Each made a pact with the others to serve as assistant coaches if one of them became head coach.

When James Stippich, an Olympia High grad who went on to play defensive back at College of the Siskiyous and assist at Washington High of Tacoma, was hired, he immediately brought half a dozen North Thurston employees onto his staff: Camren Bowes, Erich Weight, Calvin Belton, former Rams star Lawyer Tillman, Keith Moffatt, Matt O’Bieness and Cesar Delors-Ruiz.

“North Thurston is a special place,” said Stippich, in his third year as a special education teacher and assistant girls basketball coach. “Just walking around, you see the students’ passion for success. I’ve been around great programs and all the ingredients are here.”

Stippich’s Olympia roots convince him of the value of having the bulk of his staff in-building, something he says is “almost unheard of” in modern high school sports. He played all three marquee sports for the Bears in the late 1990s, under highly-regarded coaches Bill Beattie in football, John Kiley in basketball and the late Todd McDougall in baseball.

“They were great coaches. They ingrained a mental fortitude that with the right attitude and effort and action, anything is possible,” Stippich said, adding that seeing the coaches as teachers throughout the school day added to their influence.

He echoed Coker’s goal to involve the entire campus community in football.

“We want to make this a program and not just a team. We want our players to engage with the community. We want teachers to be involved,” he said. “We have an English teacher who knows how to teach yoga; she’s going to help us with stretching. We have Wellness teachers who are going to develop a nutritional program.

“We’re going to create and track personal goals for our players.”

Those players included a relatively small squad of 35 varsity players during the fall season.

Fortunately, despite an 0-10 record that included the Rams being outscored 452-62, there is talent to build around.

Stippich said he got “goosebumps” feeling the energy in the room when he was interviewed by a panel of players during the hiring process.

Shaw called 6-foot-5, 275-pound junior lineman Aidan Anderson “the best two-way lineman” in the 3A South Sound Conference and other league coaches agreed, voting Anderson first team all-league on offense and second team on defense.

Other top returnees include quarterback/defensive back Ray Parker, running back/linebacker Adrian Tapia, 6-5, 255-pound lineman Juju Lee, 6-2, 255-pound lineman Marcellus Belton, 6-2 and 315-pound lineman Vijay Ioane .

“They’re seniors and they want to lead,” Stippich said. “They want to leave a legacy. It’s really cool that they want to be a part of the foundation.”

Though Stippich plans to have a hand in both offensive and defensive game-planning, he’s leaving the coordinator duties to Weight on defense and Wayne Kennedy, one of his former teammates at Olympia, on offense.

Like most coaches, Stippich doesn’t want to lay out many specifics about strategies.

“Our offense will look like a spread, but will have some innovative aspects to it,” he said. “Defensively, I’ve always like the 50 Front that Tumwater runs. We looking at that, we’re looking at a 4-3.”

Coker is confident Stippich’s plans will drive the Rams in the right direction.

“He has a great vision of a program that ties football to the broader educational program,” he said. “That was very important to us. He’s got a lot of positivity and passion for Rams football. We’re excited.”

Stippich says he and his staff are “in it 110 percent. “These kids need something special. We want to make this a program everyone wants to be part of. That’s what the kids deserve.”

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