A new, upscale weight room was one of the lures that brought Steve Graff from Pasco High School to Chiawana when the rival school opened in the fall of 2009.
He makes sure it gets plenty of use. And that, the coach claims, is the common thread in the success he’s had with both football programs.
“The key is the weight room for everybody,” Graff said. “You’re expected to be in there if you’re not out for another sport.”
Chiawana’s most successful season will culminate in the Class 4A state championship game Saturday at 7:30 p.m. as the No. 5 Riverhawks (12-1) face top-ranked Camas (13-0) at the Tacoma Dome.
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Win or lose, underclassmen will pack that weight room next week. Few will want a day off. After last season ended in a postseason loss to Gonzaga Prep, Graff offered his players a break. They didn’t want one.
Graff, 52, sets the example. When he suffered a heart attack earlier this season, he had surgery to implant two stents on a Tuesday and was back coaching on Friday.
“I made my doctor write me a note,” he said.
And it’s that kind of commitment that has helped fuel this year’s run and the ones Graff had in his 12 seasons at Pasco, where his teams went 114-28 and won 4A state titles in 1998, 2000 and 2003.
Graff says talent comes in cycles and that senior leadership is a key. Last year’s team, which had just three seniors who played, finished 6-4 — better than the talent might have dictated.
“Sometimes those kids go out there and play their tails off and win just because they think they’re supposed to win, because that’s what we do here,” Graff said. “That’s the mentality we take.”
The only year the Riverhawks haven’t reached the postseason was their first, when the school had no seniors.
But Chiawana was 10-1 the following season, getting eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual champion Ferris of Spokane. The Riverhawks were 8-1 in 2011.
Graff brought his entire staff to Chiawana from Pasco, and it’s still intact. Dave Spray, who won a 2B state title at Dayton in 1994, calls all of the plays. Graff credits the entire staff for the program’s success — and so does senior quarterback Joey Zamora, a three-year starter who started playing organized football as a freshman.
“Our coaching staff is the best in the state,” Zamora said. “They know what it takes to win.”