When 42-year-old Mike Pluschke arrived at Woodinville last season, you could say he was like the kid at Christmas who received a new bike.
The imaginations of offensive coordinators come alive when high-octane players occupy the skill positions. And that’s what Pluschke had, especially in senior running backs Wyatt Smith and Alek Kacmarcik.
“The most challenging part early on was taking a look at the talent and figuring out how to give everyone the ball,” Pluschke said. “Trying to bridge the gulf from the way I had done things in the past to the things they had been doing already. Making adjustments with terminology. So we kept a base offense and I added ways to get the ball to two different backs in Katch and Wyatt. And then we also had guys like receiver Tommy Wick making plays, so we looked for ways to get him the ball.”
Things were going great into October, as the Falcons soared to a 4-1 record. But by that fifth game, both Smith and Kacmarcik had gone down with season-ending injuries. Pluschke had many years of experience coaching prep football, and he needed that experience now.
“When those guys went down and we were trying to figure out where to go from there,” Pluschke said. “The challenge was to take all those pieces and put them in the right spots so it produces. We had to figure out new ways to get things done.”
From that point forward, Woodinville showed lots of fight, but staggered toward season’s end with a 5-4 record.
“Athletes are athletes,” Pluschke said. “You want to maximize their potential with our offense being a zone offense and being a spread type of thing....We went from having a lot in the game plan early in the season, and maximizing who got touches, to minimizing the game plan and having less and trying to produce.
“Even in the [season-ending] loss to Newport we were producing, but we had stalls,” he said. “We were missing the guys who could take the ball to the house, with 60-, 70- and 80-yard runs. They were game changers. When they went down, [our identity changed] to where we were chipping away on third and 5s, third and 4s. Trying to get into good yard and distance situations to have successes. And staying away from those second and long situations.”
But throughout the season, regardless of outcome, Pluschke appreciated his new team’s closeness and camaraderie.
“The most satisfying thing was being with a group of coaches and kids that shared the same common goals,” he said. “That was enriching for me to walk into a program that feeds off of playing together with a unity and a bond.”
When asked of this season, Pluschke was clearly fired up.
“It’s funny because we thought we were going to have a QB battle, and then we saw that we had better pieces if we took those QBs and got them onto the field,” he said. “If we started today, Nick Fouch would be the starter. And you will see an interesting balance in our multiple sets, multiple personnel, and how we utilize the different athletes we have on our team. We will be a two back set with two very good stout running backs in the game, in Dylan Axelson and Brad Roland. Then we will go to a one back set and they will be alternating with a good tight end and halfback outside. But then we will also go to a four-wide receiver set we call The Smurfs. They go out there and run, like the old Washington Redskins teams.
“That’s the way we will try to utilize our playmakers.”