It’s been nine months, and Deacon Parker is still losing sleep over the last football game he played.
“I stay up every night thinking about it,” he said. “I just think about how I could’ve done my friends better, how I could’ve made it better for Keith (Olson) or Gavin (Parker) or Lucas (Dahl) or Glade (Shannon) or anyone, because I know that I didn’t do my best in it. It still haunts me to this day.”
He’s not the only Napavine player in a similar bind. Safe to say, these Tigers don’t forget easily.
They don’t forget the eight-point lead with six minutes to go at Harry E. Lang Stadium last December. They don’t forget Gavin Parker getting stuffed in his own end zone for a safety, or Jackson Esary plunging into the end zone, first for a touchdown and then for the go-ahead two-point conversion. And they certainly don’t forget the sight of Kalama raising the 2B state championship trophy on the other end of the field after coming oh-so-close to glory.
They stung through the offseason and into spring ball, and remembered throughout the summer.
“I think everybody still thinks about what happened last year,” Cael Stanley said. “It keeps a chip on everybody’s shoulder to come out and play hard and play for each other.”
Now, after oh so long of remembering and stewing, nine months later, the Tigers finally get a chance to make things right the only way you can after coming in second place in heartbreaking fashion.
“We want to focus on what’s in front of us and how we can get better,” head coach Josh Fay said. “But our ultimate goal is to see if we can get back to that game and have a different outcome.”
They’re certainly in a prime spot to do so. Despite losing a Pac-12 lineman in Keith Olson, two first-team all-league skill players in Dahl and Gavin Parker, and a big receiving threat in Shannon, Napavine is set to return about as many starters as the other three state semifinalists from last fall combined.
That includes the man running it all on offense, with Demarest coming back for his second stint as a starting quarterback after earning first-team all-C2BL North Division honors last fall.
“I think I’m more in shape,” the junior said. “I’m hungrier than ever. I just want to get back to the top.”
Stanley, who himself earned a second-team all-league nod as the Tigers’ No. 2 back in 2021, will get a go at being the starring rusher this season, bulking up on the carries and — Napavine hopes — the yards.
Those two will be operating behind a line that loses the reigning C2BL North Offensive Player of the Year (Olson) and two more first-team blockers (Scott Burdick and Deven Searles) but returns a third in Deacon Parker and a second-teamer in Gabe Harris, and has the depth to fill out.
“Every guy that’s going to start on that offensive line has started a high school football game,” Fay saud. “I think they’re going to be pretty good. I think they feel like they have something to prove without Keith around.”
As importantly the Tigers bring numbers up front, letting Fay shuffle linemen in and out, not forcing anyone to grind the whole game, and keeping the front fresh to be stalwarts on defense as well.
Joining the returning starters is a fresh crop of former backups and young faces, ready to fill out the ranks for the state favorites. But along the way, Parker and Demarest and the rest of the guys who were on the field at Harry E. Lang have been sure to instill in them the low that this journey began with.
After all, there’s only one way to get over that sort of pain.
“You just have to push them,” Demarest said. “You don’t want to have that feeling that we did back in December. I just want to be on the other side.”