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Pirates bask in a season of success
On Saturday, the Pirate football team played its first ever state playoff game. It was a chilly night, with the moon playing peek-a-boo behind the wispy clouds in Tumwater.
And though the Pirates fell to perennial powerhouse Montesano 14-7, they did so in the finest form, displaying some of the best ball this Island has ever seen, spectators said.
“We came up short in the end, but I couldn’t be more proud of our kids,” said Clay Eastly, the Pirates’ head coach. “They played with their hearts and played all out, so I’ve got no complaints. Nobody gave us a chance except for ourselves, and we played great.”
This football season may seem like an anomaly, given the Pirates’ 1-10 record last year. But each win this season was much more than luck; it was the result of years spent together as coaches and athletes, some of whom have been playing together for five years.
Eastly, in his second year as head coach, was named Nisqually League 1A’s 2008 football coach of the year, an honor that he took in stride and said belongs to the entire coaching staff. But his roots with these Vashon gridders go even deeper.
Eastly has coached the athletes who are now in 10th grade since they were in sixth. In the inaugural year of the Vashon Pirate Youth Football program, Vashon won its bracket championship against Orting, said Dave Rauma, who was the youth football program’s first president.
Those same players, from the class of 2011, were champions in seventh and eighth grade. It was only last year that these athletes suffered a losing season, and with the sure direction of Eastly and fellow coaches Rick Sassara, Mark Ledbetter, Bob Jackson and Scott Betz, perhaps their only losing season.
“This is probably the best, largest and most capable coaching staff we’ve ever had on the Island,” said Rauma, who heads the Bounty Club, a parent group that fundraises for the Pirate football program.
Several of the coaches have played college football — Ledbetter even played for the NFL — and bring a great deal of experience to the game, said senior Andy Didricksen, who was recognized as Nisqually’s defensive co-MVP of the year.
“Coach Eastly is a great person who cares a lot about football, and he spends a lot of time preparing for our games and trying to help us succeed,” he said. “He really cares about everybody on the team.”
Eastly said there is “a lot of mutual respect earned” between he and his players.
“It’s not just football,” he said of coaching.
“It’s about learning life’s skills,” he said, “holding them accountable and hopefully instilling a work ethic in them for the future.”
Vashon High School principal Susan Hanson said it was good coaching that guided the Pirates to success, as well as student athletes who put their team ahead of themselves.
The coaches, she said, are “looking not just to develop X’s and O’s, but to develop a team that has high standards ethically on the field and off the field.”
“They’re educating young men, not just playing football,” Hanson said.
Assistant principal and athletic director Stephanie Spencer attended the playoff game, and said it was an even contest between Vashon and Montesano.
Vashon sent a rooter bus, and many fans drove themselves, making for a vocal and enthusiastic support group of Vashon High School students, alumni, parents, staff and family and friends.
“It means a lot for the school when our teams are successful,” Spencer said. “There’s a lot of school spirit, and it shows.”
Before the game, the Pirates were buoyant and confident, Eastly said. And after the disappointing loss, there were “a lot of upset players.”
“I told the team that nobody should be hanging their heads,” he said. “They played a great game, a great season, and they should be proud of that.”
This year was the first in a long time that Vashon didn’t have a freshman starting on varsity, he said. This year, most of the athletes are juniors and sophomores, which bodes well for next year.
“We’re starting to mature as a team,” Eastly said.
He said the team’s goal this year was to be the first team from Vashon to make it to the state playoffs.
And they did. Next fall, the Pirates hope to play in the state championship game in the Tacoma Dome, he said.
“The team next year is probably going to be even better,” Didricksen said. “We definitely have some younger players who are going to step up and fill our shoes.”
Pirates named to all-league teams
While Head Coach Clay Eastly was recognized as Nisqually 1A's football coach of the year, 11 Pirate athletes were also honored.
Andy Didricksen (senior) — defensive co-MVP of the league
Nathan Betz (junior) — 1st team, defensive line and 1st team, offensive running back
Tim Jovanovich (senior) — 1st team offensive guard
Kyle Martin (senior) — 2nd team, defensive live and honorable mention, offensive line
Austin Franks (junior) — 2nd team, defensive back
Nick Fox-Edele (sophomore) — 2nd team, kicker
Adrian Arceo (sophomore) — honorable mention, kicker
Michael Stoffer (senior) — 2nd team, tight end and honorable mention, outside linebacker
Quinn Holert (junior) — honorable mention, defensive back
Kyle Bakker (sophomore) — honorable mention, offensive line
Joel Harvey (junior) — honorable mention, offensive line