Sports

Despite injuries, Buechner voted to all-conference football teams

Avery Buechner filled a lot of roles on the Falcon football team. The senior was a  quarterback, running back and receiver on offense; he was also a safety on defense; and he was a punt and kick returner on special teams. He played with a shoulder injury and various ankle ailments this season.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Avery Buechner filled a lot of roles on the Falcon football team. The senior was a quarterback, running back and receiver on offense; he was also a safety on defense; and he was a punt and kick returner on special teams. He played with a shoulder injury and various ankle ailments this season.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

LANGLEY — Avery Buechner, all 200 pounds of him, liked running into the other football team’s players.

On defense and on offense, it didn’t matter to the South Whidbey senior.

Whether he was running toward the ball or running with the ball, he lowered his shoulders to deliver a blow to whoever was in front of him.

“I don’t like being touched; I don’t like getting touched by other people,” Buechner said. “I know that if I get my pads lower than theirs, I’m going to win. I love hitting people.”

Buechner played on all three sides-offense, defense and special teams. He was the team’s starting quarterback, but he attempted less than 20 passes thanks to a shoulder injury during the preseason.

This year, he still lined up as the starting quarterback, but almost certainly, when Number 10 got under center, he was going to run. Still, his exploits as a wide receiver and defensive back got him voted to the all-Cascade Conference second team offense and defense.

“Avery played injured the entire year and that kept him from throwing,” said Falcon co-head coach Mark Hodson.

When he learned his starting quarterback was injured, Hodson and co-head coach Andy Davis worked on other schemes to keep the ball in his hands, on offense and defense.

They moved him from linebacker, where he was a second team defender last season, to safety this year.

“The whole concept was, how do we get the ball in Avery’s hands,” Hodson said. “He was easily our number one priority on offense.”

Defenses knew Buechner was the Falcons’ go-to player.

During games, when he would move from one side of the field to

the other, or from the line of scrimmage to the backfield, defenders would yell out, “Eyes on 10,” and “Watch 10! Watch 10! Watch 10!”

Hearing the other team’s coaches and defenders try to key on him was a point of pride for Buechner. As a running back (which he did almost exclusively when he lined up at quarterback, commonly called the wildcat offense), he used his size to power through the defensive linemen. As a receiver, he did the same to much slimmer cornerbacks and safeties.

His size also worked to his advantage as a downfield blocker and as a decoy.

“I wasn’t taller, but I was bigger than a lot of defensive backs so I could create space with my body,” Buechner said. “I blocked a lot better than I feel most receivers would. Being a linebacker and learning to tackle a running back, you lock on someone.”

Defense is his favorite position, despite being the most visible and well-known player on the team when he plays quarterback.

“I love scoring touchdowns and I like hitting people, and the only place you can do that is on defense,” Buechner said.

His switch on defense from playing near the line of scrimmage to the secondary was more difficult for the Freeland resident. As a safety, his job was to contain long plays, both on the ground and through the air. It was a steep learning curve for a kid who grew up playing linebacker on defense.

“That was different,” Buechner said. “I remember a lot of frustration in the beginning of the season because I wasn’t used to it.

“The timing is a lot different. You have a lot more time to see the play develop, which you’d think would be better, but at times it’s a lot harder because you can’t just stick your nose in it and get to the ball.”

The first-time, second team safety learned an important lesson to cover the defender and not worry about the running backs. It was a lesson in trusting his defensive linemen and linebackers to stop any runs and disrupt the quarterback.

“Don’t peek in the backfield,” Buechner said. “It hurt me a couple times.”

One example of his defensive lapses he admitted to was against Anacortes in the last game of the season.

Ben Watanabe / Record file | Avery Buechner makes a last-line-of-defense tackle against Archbishop Murphy junior running back Morgan Masanda. Both are members of the second team offense for the Cascade Conference.

Anacortes was near the 20-yard line and used a play-action fake to the running back. A tight end ran past Buechner in the middle of the field and caught a floating pass and scored untouched.

“The last touchdown pass they threw was 110 percent my fault,” he said. “I peeked right in the backfield and then that kid ran right by. It hurt the pride a little bit.”

Buechner owning to the mistake is an example of how he has matured in his four years at South Whidbey. At Langley Middle School, he was known as a gifted, bulky football player and a trouble-maker in school. He had an attitude, and the reputation preceded him in high school.

This year, he was one of the team’s co-captains and its most vocal leader, embracing the South Whidbey football tradition of “ohana,” which is Hawaiian for family.

“Here’s a young man who, coming in as a freshman, we were told, ‘Don’t waste your time on Avery because he won’t stick with anything. He’s going to constantly be in trouble. Grade-wise he will never be eligible for you, and is the perfect football player,’” Hodson said.

“He came in and we gave him some leadership, some responsibility, and we gave him a chance.”

“There’s a young guy who took advantage of all three of those things,” Hodson said.

Buechner can admit his past was not as clean as the routes he ran.

“I knew I had some issues and stuff. I was a pretty troubled, bad kid in middle school,” he said.

Nick Tenuta and Trapper Rawls, both upperclassmen when Buechner was a freshman, told him in the locker room after their final game (a loss to Blaine), that he would lead the team one day and be great. Their vision gave him a path.

“It made me pretty happy to hear that from two guys I looked up to so much,” Buechner said.

There were also tough lessons learned. During a practice, he went head-to-head with Rawls, a much bigger player and took a hit he still remembers.

“Trapper Rawls took me head-on and drove me five feet through the air. He just smashed me,” Buechner said.

“I found out later that was kind of a designed thing to knock some of my cockiness out of me. It flipped a switch. It was a reality check for me that you can’t be a hard-nosed punk, you have to change.”

Buechner’s leadership helped him become an all-conference receiver. When he hurt his shoulder and realized it wouldn’t be healthy in time for the season, he began working with sophomore quarterback Nick French. They would meet a few times a week and practice routes for hours.

“We transitioned as a team,” Buechner said.

He grew as a football player, and as a young adult. He volunteers as a youth leader with Young Life, which he recently spent a Friday night over town playing games, chasing middle school youths and having his patience tested until the early morning hours when they got on the first ferry back to Whidbey.

He wants to continue his football career in college, in any capacity he can. Ideally, he said, Portland State will give him a chance to play. Buechner is open to smaller schools, too.

Thankfully, he’s ready to play on offense, defense and special teams.

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