Wheatland High School is remodeling its athletic department with a pair of fresh voices to lead the Pirates into what they anticipate is a brighter athletic future.
Jason Soderlund takes over for the retiring Dave Contreras as the school’s athletic director, while Andy Fatten becomes the new Pirates head football coach, succeeding Larry Hulen.
Hulen is relocating to the Lassen area with his family, Soderlund said Wednesday.
Hulen, who was not fired by Wheatland according to Soderlund, presided over one of the strangest years in Wheatland and high school football history. It was a year marked by a number of restarts in conditioning and offseason workouts due to the ever evolving COVID-19 pandemic. Once football officially reopened this past spring for a modified five-game season, Soderlund admitted that it was difficult for the coaching staff to monitor all the additional requirements due to the pandemic.
“It’s been a taxing year for teachers, administrators and everyone involved in education,” Soderlund said.
Coaches, Soderlund said, were required to organize weekly COVID-19 testing schedules and numerous health and safety protocols, in addition to their normal coaching duties.
“It was a tough, tough year,” he said.
Wheatland, which finished 0-5 this spring, struggled to compete and was banged up constantly. It was also forced to play younger players at key positions due to opt-outs this spring.
Soderlund said players were forced to choose in some cases between spring football and full-time work or other activities – which isn’t fair to anyone.
It was an unprecedented season, and therefore there was zero subsequent blame on anyone, Soderlund said.
But the school is fervently moving forward in hopes of a brighter 2021.
“This year has been hard but we’re still looking (toward) the future and building,” Soderlund said. “That’s why I love it (at Wheatland).”
Fatten transitions back to alma mater
The former Sutter assistant coach is making his way back to his old stomping grounds from when he was a standout running back at Wheatland in the mid 2000s.
Fatten, who coached at Sutter for 11 years, said it was a no-brainer decision to move over to Wheatland to begin his head coaching tenure.
“I take a lot of pride in the school. I went there, played in the youth program,” he said. “I want to bring the fun back into it.”
The fun begins June 7 when Wheatland’s summer offseason program hits the ground running.
Fatten said right now the program will consist of a lot of individual field work, weight training and relationship building with the players.
Eventually once state protocols ease, Fatten said Wheatland will participate in 7-on-7 passing leagues with other schools.
“We’re hoping it will look normal,” said Fatten, a 2005 graduate of Wheatland.
The program, Fatten said, will run Monday through Thursday through the end of July.
He said with the athletes that he has communicated with so far, the mood is overwhelmingly positive.
The offseason will begin in the weight room getting “bigger, stronger, faster,” Fatten said.
He is hoping to bring a lot of what he learned at Sutter over the course of the last decade to Yuba County to revitalize the Wheatland program.
Sutter for years has developed a physical “in your face,” type program, Fatten said. The results were numerous championships throughout the last 10-plus years.
“I plan on implementing what I learned there (at Wheatland),” Fatten said.