It was just five years ago. Tacoma Baptist was making its fifth appearance in a state semifinal football game and ended up dropping a 25-11 heartbreaker to eventual 2B state champion Adna. The next two seasons, the Crusaders would make it to the state quarterfinals before ultimately bowing out.
Just two seasons later, the Crusaders would need players from Mount Rainier Lutheran to field a squad of 16 players and the team went 2-7.
A few weeks ago, as practice opened for the new season, a new Crusader head coach was in for quite a shock when nine players showed up for tryouts. Tacoma Baptist didn’t play eight-man football, and if they did, they were going to have a team with one player on the bench.
“We started with nine the first week,” said new head coach Tim Rasmussen. “So were up to about 15 right now. With school starting, we’re hoping to add another one or two, maybe three kids. We’ve already had to cancel a couple of our first games because of the number of practices issues.”
Following a summer of wholesale administrative changes at Tacoma Baptist, legendary head coach Mark Smith left the program. In 1991, it was Smith who helped organize the creation of a non-existent football program at the small school and in 22 seasons, Tacoma Baptist boasted one of the strongest football programs in the state in 2B and 1A.
In 22 seasons under Smith, the Crusaders made 15 state tournaments, including five semifinal games and three championship appearances (losses in 1995, 2000 and 2001). For several years Tacoma Baptist had a full-squad junior varsity team.
“It’s an honor to be able to follow a guy like Mark Smith,” said Rasmussen. “He did a great job of starting and building this program. It kind of fell on some hard times in the last couple of years. The school has been dealing with some number issues.
“The whole purpose of what we do is to mentor and develop these kids. We’re going to teach a lot of fundamentals this year. We’ll get there. It’s going to be a learning year for everybody.”
While Rasmussen may have been a little surprised at state of the football program, it hasn’t changed his plans and goals for Crusader football. With just three upper-classmen on the roster, the sky is pretty much the limit as far as he’s concerned.
“We’re pretty excited about the opportunity to build and continue the great legacy that is Tacoma Baptist football,” said Rasmussen. “Everywhere I’ve been, it’s always been about a three-year turnaround. We’re going to teach them the fundamentals and the key is to keep them from getting discouraged early and help them see the big picture that they’re getting more field time on a Friday night than any other kid their age and by the time it’s their junior and senior year, they’re going to really know what to do.
“We talk about obstacles and perspective in our program. Obstacles are not there to keep you from things; they’re just there to prove how badly you want something.”
Players to look-out for this season are senior receiver Jonny VanParys and offensive lineman Kyle Kliewer. Junior running back Tyler Hertz rounds out the upper-classmen for the Crusaders. Sophomore tight-end Doug Stone and sophomore running back Noah Leaman are expected to make an impact.
If plans continue as they are, the Crusaders will open their season Sept. 19 at South Bend.