Asked about his favorite play from four years of high school football, Daniel Matagi — one of the most well-spoken athletes in the area — needed a minute to find an answer. And when it came, it wasn’t a sack, or a big hit, or a pancake block, or even a play that had any contact. It didn’t come from a win; in fact, it came from the loss that ended his career. But still, it stood out.
“(It was) the last defensive play we went out against North Kitsap,” he said. “It wasn’t a touchdown play, it wasn’t anything, but it was the last time. I knew there were 15 seconds on the clock and we were down by seven points, they had the ball, and we knew they were just going to knee it. I really just decided to take it all in in that moment, to be there with the guys, and I think that was my favorite play — the very last one.”
And boy, did Matagi have a lot to take in, wrapping up a decorated career in W.F. West Crimson.
There were the end-of-year awards, earning first-team all-league honors on the offensive line as a sophomore during the spring 2021 season, a 2A EvCo defensive MVP nod last season, and the league MVP award this fall. He had the final stats to go with them: 46 stackles (12 for loss), along with two sacks on defense, while helping to lead an offensive line that blocked for 150 yards per game and kept quarterback Gavin Fugate on his feet all year.
And of course, there were the team accomplishments. The return to the state playoffs last season, and most importantly, a semifinal run this fall that equaled the Bearcats best-ever finish.
“I know over the four years, there’s been a lot of progress, a lot of building,” Matagi said. “And I’m going to remember building this team that went to the semifinals. This team, I’ve been with Will (Buzzard) and Gavin and all those guys since sophomore year, when we really started building those guys and bringing them up. Really, that’s what makes it even more special that we made it to the semis, is that it’s our own guys. We put the work in, we didn’t take any shortcuts, and we got enough. It’s not a state championship, but I think for our whole team, we feel like we accomplished something.”
Matagi began playing football in second grade; he had one year at tight end before getting moved to the line, but he didn’t take to the violence right away. That’s when his father, John, stepped in.
“My dad took me out in the front yard and had me tackle a pad for an hour, until I wasn’t scared of it anymore,” Daniel said. “That really changed things.”
With the lesson out of the way, Matagi — who also wrestles for the Bearcats — found his home within the physicality in the trenches. Coming into the W.F. West program as a freshman in 2019, though, he got a crash course in playing within a system, on both sides of the ball.
“There’s more than just running forward and tackling a guy,” he said. “You’ve got to do this job, so that this other guy can make that play.”
The results quickly followed. Four years later, W.F. West’s front — Matagi, Buzzard, Landon Hirte, Hunter Lutman, and Andrew Penland — bullied just about everyone it met in the regular season, and held its own against some of the most physical teams in the state during the playoffs.
Beyond his own numbers on defense, the double-teams he attracted helped free up linebackers Blake Ely and Evan Stajduhar to combine for 191 tackles and the Bearcats allowed 109 rushing yards per game.
And at the center of it all, on offense, defense, and the awards list, was W.F. West’s big No. 55, who hasn’t made any final decisions on his future but did just earn a scholarship offer to play on the defensive line at Central Washington.
So while his current favorite play might be his most recent, there may well be plenty more on the way for the 2022 Chronicle All-Area MVP.
Ashton Demarest, Napavine, jr — Leading the Tiger offense all the way to a 2B state championship, the junior slinger was the only area signal-caller to pass for at least 2,000 yards while also rushing for over 1,000, totaling 3,306 yards and 54 touchdowns.
Gavin Fugate, W.F. West, sr. — The Bearcat QB passed for an area-high 2,706 yards on a 62% completion percentage, and rushed for 506 more yards to help lead W.F. West to its highest finish at state in over a decade. The senior totaled 32 touchdowns on the season.
Dylan Spicer, Tenino, sr — If a late-season injury hadn’t derailed him, Spicer might have finished with well over 2,000 rushing yards, but his 1,492 yards on just 145 carries (good for over 10 yards a run) was still impressive. The senior added 19 touchdowns as well in just nine games.
Geoffrey Glass, Toledo, sr. — The only thing limiting Glass’ final numbers were Toledo’s balanced attack, but the senior still went for 1,211 rushing yards on 172 carries. He also racked up 174 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the air.
Johnnie Stallings, Black Hills, sr. — Helping lead the Wolves back to the state playoffs, Stallings totaled 826 yards on 5.19 yards per carry, with seven touchdowns on the ground. He also finished with 288 receiving yards and two touchdowns, and even threw for a touchdown for good measure.
Carlos Matheney, Tumwater, sr. — The University of Idaho commit was a 1,000-yard rusher, and the main cog of the T-Birds offense in 2022, with 18 rushing touchdowns.
Rodrigo Rodriguez, Onalaska, so. — Filling in some pretty big shoes, Rodriguez didn’t miss much of a beat in Ony’s ground game, rushing close to 1,200 yards with 16 total touchdowns, including three kick returns brought to the house.
Blake Howard, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, jr. — The junior was the Titans’ workhorse, as both the main run option on offense and a primary kick and punt returner. Howard totaled 10 touchdowns across offense and special teams, with 673 rushing yards as the lead back for a PWV team that rolled all the way to the 2B state semifinals.
Palmer Watt, Rochester, jr. — The lead blocker for most of the Warriors’ run-heavy offensive sets, Watt was a force on both offense and defense. The junior also totaled 77 tackles and 12 tackles for loss at middle linebacker, including 21 tackles against rival Tenino in Rochester’s season finale.
Karsen Denault, Napavine, so. — Stepping up when the lights shined the brightest for the Tigers, Denault was a key piece in Napavine’s 2B state title run, with 904 yards receiving, 163 rushing yards, 245 punt return yards, and 14 total touchdowns.
Gage Brumfield, W.F. West, so. — Taking on an expanded role in a Bearcats offense that took off, Brumfield caught 53 passes for 1,021 yards, 12 touchdowns, and added three more rushing touchdowns and a punt return score. Brumfield averaged over 100 receiving yards per game as the Bearcats rolled all the way to the 2A state semifinals.
Keegan Kolb, Mossyrock, sr. — The Vikings’ do-it-all receiver, Kolb rushed for 295 yards, had 561 receiving yards, and totaled 11 touchdowns to help Mossyrock win the 1B Columbia Valley League and finish the regular season undefeated.
Hunter Hazen, Morton-White Pass, sr. — Also a stalwart on defense, Hazen caught 15 passes for 284 yards with four total touchdowns, all the while paving the way as a blocker for MWP’s ground game and racking up 107 total tackles with 17 tackles for loss on defense.
Owen Gillaspie, Rochester, sr. — the senior leader of the Warriors’ line, Gillaspie was a key cog of a strong Warriors rushing attack.
Carlos Vallejo, Centralia, so. — earned a first-team all-league nod after a strong season in the trenches for the Tigers as a lineman.
William Buzzard, W.F. West, sr. — playing next to Matagi on the offensive line as a Bearcat tackle, Buzzard was a dominant force on both offense and defense. The senior lineman had 55 tackles to go along with nine tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, and also took his lone carry from the backfield against Centralia for 15 yards.
Deacon Parker, Napavine, sr. — Leading a group that lost a couple of standouts from a year ago, Parker was the elder statesman on a younger Tiger line, keeping quarterback Ashton Demarest free from pressure and also recorded seven tackles for loss and 56 total tackles on defense.
Rylan McGraw, Onalaska, jr. — A stalwart on a young line, McGraw paved the way for Onalaska’s run game to accumulate over 3,000 yards as a team, while also tearing it up on the defensive line for the Loggers.
Jaih Tilton, Toledo, jr. — A first-team all-C2BL selection on both sides of the line, Tilton helped lead a Toledo front that paved the way for the Riverhawks to average 287 yards and 33 points per game.
Jeremy Hafoka, Tumwater, sr. — The 2A EvCo Defensive MVP, Hafoka totaled 73 tackles with two sacks, three fumble recoveries, and 17 tackles for loss over the course of the season for the T-Birds.
Bayron Rodriguez, Toledo, jr. — Logging 52 tackles, 17 TFLs, nine sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries, Rodriguez helped lead a stifling Toledo defense that only gave up 25 points three times in the regular season.
Andres Zamudio, Tenino, sr. — Leading the way up front for the Beavers again, Zamudio had 42 solo tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and two fumble recoveries to spearhead a stout Tenino front seven.
Mario Lara, Napavine, sr. — Perhaps the most disruptive force in the area, Lara had 61 solo tackles and racked up 100 total tackles while tacking on 19 tackles for loss, a pass breakup, and 14 sacks.
Haezen Cayenne, Oakville, sr. — Leading his league in several defensive categories for the Acorns, Cayenne had 89 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, four sacks, two picks, six pass breakups, and three forced fumbles from the pass rusher spot.
Cael Stanley, Napavine, jr. — One of Napavine’s most consistent playmakers on both sides of the ball, Stanley had the game-sealing interception in the 2B state title game, and added 60 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups over the course of the season. He also added 90 carries for 827 yards and 17 touchdowns on offense.
Brody Noonan, Tenino, sr. — Punters beware, Noonan blocked three punts in some game-changing moments, and also added 63 solo tackles, 25 TFLs, 18 sacks, and was named 1A Evergreen Defensive Player of the Year for his efforts.
Blake Ely, W.F. West, sr. — Ely totaled 124 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and had a forced fumble and fumble recovery to lead a swarming Bearcat defense at linebacker.
Kolten Fluke, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, sr. — Made 9.6 tackles per game for the Titans, and also captained them on offense at quarterback, totaling 18 touchdowns.
Sage Greisen, Mossyrock, sr. — The 1B Southwest Washington League Defensive MVP, Greisen totaled 55 tackles, and two tackles for loss with an interception, while also carrying the rock for nearly 600 yards and 12 touchdowns on offense.
Easton Kolb, Mossyrock, so. — Kolb might’ve been the 1B Southwest Washington League Offensive MVP as a quarterback, totaling 28 touchdowns with just one interception, but was also a fierce defensive back for the Vikings. The sophomore picked off six passes, broke up seven more, and had 30 tackles on the season.
Tanner Parkinson, Black Hills, sr. — Picked off five passes, broke up 12 more, and was a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks to throw against for most of the year, with a 22% completion percentage when he was in coverage.
Specialist: Garrett Keeton, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, sr. — The Titans didn’t lose the special teams or field position battle in many games, and that was mostly due to the strong and accurate leg of Keeton. The senior lineman had 56 tackles on defense, but also pinned seven of his 18 punts inside the 20-yard-line and made all four of his field goal attempts, with a long of 44 yards.