Paris Chavez still remembers the day Centralia football coach Jeremy Thibault told him not to make any plans for the first Friday night of his high school football career.
Chavez, a freshman at the time, had been figuring he’d get his first action in JV. But Thibault, in his first year as head coach of the Tigers, was bringing two freshmen with him to the Tigers’ season-opening varsity game — and Chavez was one of the two.
“That was definitely, like, an accomplishment because I had worked really hard,” Chavez said.
That hard work never wavered as Chavez, a 2021 graduate, is now on the cusp of playing college football after an impressive four-year campaign with with the Tigers. He officially committed to play guard and center at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) on June 9.
He’s come a long way since his first varsity game as a freshman where he was thrust in at running back at the end of the Tigers’ season opener against R.A. Long in 2017.
“Man, I was dancing in the backfield, like, up and down,” Chavez said. “It was something I will never forget. To be able to get on the field with the older kids and show what I can do was something I really enjoyed.”
It didn’t take Chavez long to prove he belonged on varsity with the older kids, first earning a starting spot as a sophomore at running back then quickly switching to center to help shore up a shorthanded offensive line. Chavez was eager to help out anywhere and anyway he could.
He started every game from the beginning of his sophomore year on and became known as a dependable lineman that punched well above his weight.
Chavez, who is now 5-foot-10, 255 pounds, has been battling against much bigger opponents on the line his entire career. He’s proven that a small-town, undersized lineman can make it to the college level.
“In the beginning, people did say, ‘You’re too small, you won’t be able to guard 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5 guys,’” Chavez said. “Every year, that’s always been a motivation for me. My family has always been behind me and my dad said, ‘You go out there and you always work hard, son. You always show people that you can do it.’ There’s always haters. I want to say thank you to them because they definitely kept me motivated to prove them wrong.”
That motivation helped him earn first-team, all-league honors on both the offensive and defensive lines, including a spot on The Chronicle’s all-area team.
He began to garner interest from college scouts as early as the beginning of his junior year. The recruitment really began picking up in the middle of his junior year after creating a Twitter account. Scouts began emailing, texting and calling him and Thibault asking for highlight reels.
By the end of his senior year, he had four scholarship offers: from the University of La Verne, 30 miles east of Los Angeles; McPherson College in Kansas; Pacific University in Oregon; and Pacific Lutheran University.
Thibault helped him coordinate, talk to the coaches and send out game film until one day, PLU contacted him with an offer.
“They texted me back and said, ‘Hey, we really want you to come here,’” Chavez said.
It wasn’t just the Lutes’ coaches recruiting him either. Eddie Burkhardt, a 2021 Rochester graduate, also recently committed to PLU. Burkhardt lived in Centralia until sixth grade and had played youth sports with Chavez for years.
So when Burkhardt signed with PLU on May 28, he knew the Lutes were interested in Chavez and he did a little recruiting himself. The day Chavez took his official campus visit, Burkhardt sent him a text.
“He was like, ‘Hey, come join me, come be a Lute. We can do big things here,’” Chavez said. “He was definitely a part of it, so shout out to Eddie for doing that. Played sports with him since we were little, so it’s really cool to play college ball with him and see where he’s grown as an athlete and person. Happy I get to go share that experience with him.”
Chavez went on the visit, talked with his parents and made the decision to commit. The reason he chose PLU wasn’t so much because it was close to home (about a 50-minute drive from Centralia). It was because it literally felt like home from the first moment he stepped on campus.
“It felt like I could fit in easily,” Chavez said. “Talking to the coaches, and the environment, the culture they have there, it was something that was all me. I could see myself fit in there and make a big impact there.”
Chavez heads to Tacoma on August 17 to embark on the next chapter in his life, academic and athletic career. He hopes to play a crucial part in rebuilding a Lutes program that has had three-straight losing seasons, including an 0-4 finish during a shortened 2020-21 season.
What he’s most looking forward to is building himself as a player and person, both on the football field and in the classroom. He’s still deciding on what he wants to major in but is looking at kinesiology.
“I want to make an impact on myself to see who I really am and see my future self after college,” Chavez said. “I’m really excited to play football, go up there and start all over again. Make my way up as a freshman.”
Looking back on the past four years at Centralia, it’s the relationships and connections he made that he’ll remember, not the games themselves. He hopes he made a lasting influence on the underclassmen that will then be passed on to future Tigers.
“The brotherhood, the bond, the culture and the connection that players and coaches have built here to make Centralia a better place again,” Chavez said. “We’re always going to have that friendship, wherever life takes us. We’re always going to have that bond that nobody can break.
“To all the younger kids that are going to be a Tiger, I want to say, you don’t have to transfer to another school or a bigger school to get recruited. It just takes heart and passion. You’ve got to work hard at everything you do in life. Colleges look for heart and the kids that like to play. Make sure you have the passion and the heart.”