They finished their season with not a single winning game, but the Vashon Island High School Pirates football team still saw four players voted onto the Nisqually League’s all-league team. Those players and others were recognized at an end-of-season banquet at Burton Lodge on Dec. 4.
The Pirates struggled with a number of challenges this season. The team started out on the smaller size, with fewer than 30 players, and then lost a number of them for all or part of the season due to injuries and illnesses. While there were 10 seniors, half of them were first-year players. That meant a young team that had a lot to learn. Head Coach Clay Eastly said he was impressed with both the perseverance and cohesiveness of the team, even in the face of losses.
The players really stepped up and worked hard throughout the whole season and supported each other. They gave it their all,” he said. “This was actually one of my favorite teams to coach. They were out there working hard every day.”
That hard work was noticed and rewarded in the all-league team designations. The all-league team voting recognizes the players who turned in the best performances all season and is chosen by all of the coaches in the Nisqually League, with a first-team, second team and honorable mention. Junior Ryan Nelson was voted 1st team all-league defense linebacker and he also had an honorable mention as a running back. Jack Cunningham was voted to the second team as defensive back and Martin Ellison received an honorable mention for his work as a defensive back.
Nelson’s extraordinary effort this season was also evident in the number of awards he received at the banquet. The team has five annual awards that are voted on by the players and coaches, and Ryan received three of them: the Bud Snaza Offensive Player of the Year; the Mike Newell Defensive Player of the Year; and the David L Mace 100%-plus Award, which acknowledges effort.
“He really stood out,” Eastly said. “On defense, he was lights out. He worked very hard to perfect his craft on the football field and as a coach, I’m excited to see how his senior season goes.”
Cunningham received the Robert Bennedsen Team Captain award. The Bill Burby Celebration of Life award, which recognizes great all-around players and teammates, went to Hunter Denall.
Eastly said the camaraderie of the team was key, especially in a season where mounting losses might have derailed the morale of another team.
“I don’t know how they did it,” he said. “I’ve had teams that won two or three games and fractured and fell apart. They never got over the hump, but they played hard all the way through.”
The team is currently recruiting for at least one more assistant coach for the fall season, which Eastly says is already looking bright for the Pirates. Plans are in process to get the team to football camp over the summer, and there is a large incoming group of freshmen expected to join the team. There could be 40 players this fall, and many of them current freshmen who had lots of game time this year.
“I think we’ll be more competitive just because of the depth,” Eastly said. “I think all of the young guys that played will benefit from the experience they had this year and it will probably motivate them to really get out there next year. I think there will be a lot more confidence next year for sure.”
— Anne Higuera is the parent of a Pirate football player.