It’s amazing the difference one win can make.
For a decade, the Rogers High School football team has suffered loss after excruciating loss. Enthusiasm surrounding the program waned and participation plummeted. The seasons eclipsing the pandemic were the hardest, with the Pirates going winless for nearly three years.
Last Friday, they put that all to rest. And for the first time in a while, things are looking up for the program.
The Pirates beat a similarly struggling Medical Lake squad 49-6 on the road, lifting a weight off the collective shoulders of the entire program.
Before that, the most recent Rogers victory was Sept. 28, 2019, a 30-0 decision over North Central. The program now owns 10 wins in the past eight seasons.
“Everybody was extremely happy, especially during the game when we were up,” junior Hartman Warrick said. “We all brought the energy and look where that got us.”
Rogers coach Mike Dewey, who has taught at the school since 2006, took over as coach in 2021 after a long stint with Liberty of Spangle. He said in the Monday morning teachers’ staff meeting the first slide they put up was a picture of the team in front of the scoreboard with the winning score in the background.
“It was a big deal around school,” Dewey said.
“We were not trying to belittle the other team or anything like that. We’re never, ever that way,” he said. “But it was just celebrating our kids and like, ‘Wow, man.’ We finally had had a moment of success and got a taste of what it feels like to be successful.”
Junior quarterback Deon Kinsey said the win was “expected, but at the same time, not expected.”
“We’ve been working for a win for a long time. Just to get it and then you finally see it come – it was exciting for everybody.”
In the grand scheme of things, one win on a football field might not seem like a big deal – especially to folks accustomed to winning. But for the Rogers program, school and community, it makes a world of difference.
And it could just be the beginning.
“Winning every game is not the be all, end all,” Dewey said. “High school sports, it’s kind of beyond that. You’re teaching people to be prepared for their lives and how to handle things when things are good, but also when things are challenging, and how to treat people and all those different lessons that you try to teach.
“But winning is also a lot of fun.”
Following the pandemic, there has been a renewed energy in high school sports around the area, with schools finding participation growing again after several years of downturn. At Rogers, the energy is palpable.
The excitement around Kinsey, the dynamic playmaker, is part of a resurgence throughout the Pirates football program. It’s still in its nascent phase, but numbers are up and there’s a feeling of possibility where before hope was scarce.
The program was unable to field a junior varsity team for several years until last season.
“When you haven’t won a lot of games, there’s not a lot of belief,” Dewey said. He is ecstatic about the turnout, but retention is also key in a community where lots of outside factors creep in on a daily basis.
“It’s one thing to have 65 kids on the first day of practice, but what does that look like in Week 4, Week 5?” he said.
Kinsey said effort weeds out those who aren’t there for the right reasons.
“I feel like everybody wants to be a beast, but when it’s time to do what beasts do, nobody wants to do it,” he said. “Everybody wants to be a football player but when it comes to conditioning and practice, they don’t want to be a football player. You just got to do it, but some of them don’t want to.”
Dewey said there’s a “defense mechanism” that can set in when things aren’t going right, where kids will just separate themselves from perceived negativity.
There’s also a heavy socioeconomic burden on a large portion of the student population at the school. At Rogers, that’s not something that’s spoken in whispers, it’s just a part of reality.
Dewey recounted a common scenario that goes something like this: “Coach, I can’t come to practice today. I have to watch my second-grade sibling and my third-grade sibling because my mom is unable to get home after school and she has to work so we can pay the rent this month.”
“Those are very real things, and we have to navigate around that because we want kids here and want them practicing and we push really hard to make it a viable program,” Dewey said. “But there is that kind of nuance to it where you have to understand where these guys are coming from.”
It’s understandably difficult for everyone when teenagers are forced with those types of decisions, he said. Yet the positives are there, and he is thankful for the effort he is getting from student-athletes in the program.
“If they’re available and can be here, they’re here,” Dewey said.
Retention starts with the youngest players in the program. It helps that several of the staff played at Rogers, went off to college, and are at the school giving back.
“Our freshman staff has done a really good job of recruiting kids and getting them out – a lot of kids that haven’t played football before,” he said.
Dewey noted head freshman coach Levi Horn and assistants Andrew Kissinger and Khalil Winfrey as motivating factors for the freshman team.
“The kids love all three of those guys and that makes a huge difference, and then they want to come out and play the next year,” Dewey said. “They got a win in their first game and the staff did a great job getting them prepared. So, keeping the numbers up is really huge. And the way you do that is you try to make every kid feel valued and make sure each kid has a role on the team.”
The older players see the enthusiasm from the younger kids.
“We got a lot of kids out in the weight room,” Kinsey said. “First time in a long time. We’ve just been getting the message out at school that we’re trying to build a program, trying to win. I think everybody’s trying to be a part of that now.”
“It definitely makes playing football fun,” Warrick said. “We get to teach the younger kids, give them the experience. It’s just high school football. We’re just out here having fun.”
Little things, like finally having matching practice uniforms, go a long way.
“If you look over, we all got the same shorts on – all the same jerseys,” Kinsey said. “That’s what we were striving for. Other schools, where they got more money or just any schools in general, they just look like a team. And now we look like a team. So, we’re playing like a team. We’re hanging out like a team.
“Before, nobody was really hanging out together. Like, we were just friends on the field. But when the coaches, coach Winfrey, everybody made us come in closer as like a family, that’s when everybody started trusting each other. I think that’s what made us feel like more of a family and started playing together.”
Rogers has recently had some success in the running sports, specifically with sprinters Anthony Dearfield and Ellabelle Taylor qualifying for nationals over the summer.
When Dearfield signed his college letter of intent over the summer, some of the football players working out that day came to the school’s resource room for the ceremony.
“It gives some hope,” Dewey said. “A lot of times our kids have difficult obstacles to overcome in their lives. But if they see that, they can say, ‘Man, he did it. This is possible.’ You can do things, you can get yourself to college, you can be successful as an athlete. You just have to put the time in, put the work in.”
It starts with trusting the process.
“I’ve been a part of 13-game winning streaks. I’ve been a part of 13-game losing streaks over the years. And all that stuff was kind of fleeting and comes and goes,” Dewey said.
“But what really stays the same is, do you care about those kids? Do they know you care about them? And do they find value in being a part of your program? And I think we have that. I mean, these kids are out here doing really good things, positive things.”
Kinsey, a converted receiver still learning the nuances of playing the position, led the way in the win. He ran for three touchdowns and threw for another as the Pirates put up 28 points in the first quarter.
Though there are skills Kinsey is refining, what he brings to the position is quickness – physical and mental, infectious enthusiasm and the unrelenting desire to get better.
“I try to be a ‘Yes sir, no sir,’ ” Kinsey said. “When it’s something I don’t know, or I gotta ask a question, I’ll ask. But usually if I’m told to do something, I’ll do it.”
“Deon is kind of symbolic of everything that we’re trying to accomplish here,” Dewey said. “They like being a part of a group that is trying to accomplish something, trying to do something positive.”
Kinsey is listed at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds. The coach praises Kinsey’s straight-line speed, change-of-direction ability, decision-making and physicality.
“He can finish runs, he’s not afraid to engage in contact, and he can really shake people side-to-side,” Dewey said. “We get him out of the pocket and move him around and we run the ball with him a lot too. He can make some pretty special cuts.”
“The fast thinking and all that, that just came with playing football from like third grade,” Kinsey said. “I feel like that just came natural. But some things I’m trying to learn is just decision-making when I’m passing. But my running game, I feel like that’s all natural.”
Kinsey had never played quarterback before coming into the program as a ninth-grader.
“Pop Warner, I was receiver, running back,” he said. “And then my freshman year, we didn’t have a quarterback and I was like, ‘Let me just try it,’ and it just stuck.”
“We asked him to play quarterback because he was the best athlete and he took it on and did a really nice job,” Dewey said. “There’s been some growing pains, but he’s also had some really bright moments.”
“Obviously you want guys that can score touchdowns,” Dewey said. “But more important than that, he’s just a kid that other people look to, and he backs it up the way that he practices. He doesn’t ask anything of any of his teammates that he’s not willing to do himself.”
It’s an important concept that a team’s best athlete also be a strong leader. In his 25 years of coaching, Dewey hasn’t always been in that situation, but it’s special “when you have that guy that will back up his game with the way that he prepares and the way that he treats other people on the team.”
It’s not just words, though. Kinsey leads by example as well.
“There’s a lot of kids that are maybe better athletes than other guys who don’t put the work in that’s necessary to fulfill their own potential because they’re better already,” Dewey said. “But Deon does it. He has a desire to get better. That’s a really cool thing to see, and other guys see that and that way it helps our team.”
Kinsey said his only goal this season was to keep getting better and that the team wasn’t looking forward to any specific game on the calendar.
“I circle every single Friday night,” he said. “I’m trying to make sure that we can win it – get that ‘dub.’ My goal, and everyone else’s, is to go perform as best as we can and get it done every game. That’s what we strive for – greatness.”