Sometimes you can actually see the personalities mesh on a football team. When it really fits, it feels like sliding those last few pieces of a jigsaw puzzle into place and seeing the whole picture.
Seniors Tyler Stavnes, Trevor Cooper and Terrynce Duke, West Valley’s T-Ball Trio, all are those kinds of pieces. Each is an important cog in the Eagles’ 4-1 start to the Great Northern League season.
Stavnes has the cool, calm demeanor you want from a quarterback – the kind of composure that would make a suitable poker face if he were dealing cards instead of passes. Cooper sports the infectious enthusiasm and confidence you expect from a leader on defense and an aw-shucks, ain’t nothin’ charm about his first-year exploits as a fullback. And Duke has an earnest sincerity about himself and his teammates that is as disarming as his moves on a football field.
“They’re just a few of the great kids we have,” coach Craig Whitney said. “We have just an incredible group of seniors on this squad.”
Stavnes has thrown eight touchdown passes in those first five games, run for a ninth, kicked a 21-yard field goal and booted 16 extra points. Cooper, in his first season as a running back, already has run for six touchdowns. And Duke, a dual-threat slot receiver, hauled in three touchdown passes, two of them longer than 50 yards, in the team’s last game, a 49-20 win over Clarkston.
So, of course, the first thing all three players want to discuss is, well, a West Valley defense that already has posted two shutout victories (over Moscow and Colville) and allows an average of 12.4 points per game.
“Our defense is what’s carried us,” said Stavnes, who doubles as a defensive back. “We’ve managed to do just enough on offense to win games, but we’ve been waiting for it to just explode and we did that in our last game.”
Cooper, the team’s veteran middle linebacker, agreed wholeheartedly.
“Our defense has great chemistry because most of us have been playing together on defense since we were little,” he said. “We played together all through middle school and now on the varsity. There are just two sophomores on our defense and they fit in great.”
“Our senior leadership wants to make a statement,” added Duke, who also doubles as a defensive back. “We all have so much confidence in each other, especially on defense. We all understand the system so well and we all have a sense of not wanting to let each other down by not getting our own job done.”
This is Homecoming Week at West Valley, so the suddenly brisk temperatures match the fresh urgency of last night’s game with Deer Park.
“Deer Park got us in this game last year, so I think we all want to give them some payback for that this year,” Duke said. “We were in charge in that game last year and we just had a letdown and let them come back and get us.”
It’s similar to the first game of the season, he said, referring to a 28-14 loss to Ellensburg. The Eagles held a 14-6 lead in the third quarter of that game, only to watch the Bulldogs roar back with three straight touchdowns, the last on a 35-yard interception return.
“That was a reminder,” Duke said. “It’s painful when you have to learn that same lesson over again.”
On a day when these players will double as coaches for the annual Homecoming powderpuff game, the seams do not show on the big picture.
In passing drills, Stavnes throws with the confidence of a young man who has nary a doubt about his receivers’ ability to haul in whatever he throws. And they do.
“I have confidence in every one of those guys,” he insists. “We’ve been throwing together for a long time. We threw all summer, we went through the Eastern Washington football camp together and we played in a seven-on-seven league. We know each other so well, and they all make me look good.”
Duke shows off sure hands and quick feet, flying out of the backfield on the reverse, pulling in swing passes behind the line of scrimmage and bursting up field or snaring darts over the middle. In the West Valley offensive scheme, Duke’s touchdown catches of 54 and 56 yards against Clarkston were short on catch and long on run.
“It is so cool to watch Terrynce make one of those long runs,” Cooper said. “He can do so many things with the football and is so explosive. It’s fun to just be a part of plays like that.”
Cooper spends much of his time working with his defense, channeling defensive coordinator Geoff Hensley to his teammates as an extra coach on the field. When he joins the offense, he burst out of the backfield as a no-frills fullback.
“I don’t have any moves, that’s for sure,” he laughs. “This is my first year as a running back. Last year I helped out on the offensive line when I wasn’t playing defense. Running the ball is a lot of fun; I just run north and south. It’s a lot more work playing both ways, but it is really rewarding for me to be able to help out our offense.”
West Valley plays three of its four remaining games at home, including what promises to be a first-place showdown with rival East Valley on Friday at Ward Mauer Field, and the regular season finale with Pullman on Oct. 26.
That, Duke says, is a big part of this team’s motivation.
“I can feel it,” he says. “I don’t know if this next game is going to be my last game or not, but these are definitely my last games as a high school football player. I think we all feel that as seniors. We all want to make the most out of these last few games.”