In a 50-20 win over the Renton Red Hawks, the Highline Pirates made the next step to the goal of playing in December. Highline finished the season 8-1, the only loss coming from the 4A Kennedy Catholic Lancers in the second game. Kennedy also finished the season in first place in the 4A North Puget Sound District with an 8-1 season.
In all 2A and 3A match-ups, the Pirates dominated the games, scoring a minimum of 50 points per game, including a 70-point romp over Lindbergh. Additionally, in several of the games, the Pirates were at 50 by the half. Just as impressive as the offense, the defense finished the season with 6 shutouts, allowing a measly 27 points by their 2A and 3A opponents the whole season, less than 4 points per game.
The Pirates featured several stars with high preseason expectations. Marquawn McCraney led the receiving corp with 63 yards per catch. Rico Soza, a transfer this year from Foster High, gained 82 yards per game. Jamaine Matthews led in touchdowns with 13, followed closely by McCraney with 12 and Nat Clay with 8.
But the development of both the offensive and defensive lines was what really stood out this year. Over the season, they gelled into tight units. The Pirate game plan was straightforward: run the ball until defenses had to come up to stop them and then unleash the pass. It all depended on the line “taking care of business,” and they did. The offensive line opened holes and provided pass protection creating 1958 total yards, 399 yards more than the national average. The QB rating can see their effectiveness of 115 enjoyed by Ronan Rasmussen, 31 points above the average. Center Jordan Heng, Guards Jacob Brown and Gabriel Tautua, Tackles Alijah Garza and Joseph Tiumalu, a transfer from Evergreen, performed consistently and improved over the season.
I had a chance to sit with some of the guys from the Pirate line. We talked about many things, but the growth in performance on the field kept returning to their growth as men, and the structure of family excellence they are learning from Coach Coop.
Tiamalu, who really enjoys photography, shared, “It is really fun. Overall, the experience I have here and the bonds I am making; I am just grateful to be part of this. I am learning that I have to let other people help me, to trust other people. My coaches have helped me to develop a strong work ethic and the value of progressing each day. My grades have improved. I’m motivated to be on time to my classes and to just plain learn.”
Tatua, who enjoys school and maintains a nearly perfect 4-point grade average, shared, “I had choices to go to other schools. Before Coach Coop, Highline was not known as the best. But I joined, and now we are building the ship; we are ready to take off. The past three years have been worth the hard work. Coach Coop always says, “Never cheat the grind. If you treat the grind good, the grind will treat you good.” When asked to describe the grind, Tatua replied, “Consistency is a big part of it. You can’t skip. You have to show up to school, be a student, go to study hall, the weight room, and then outside for practice. It’s mostly mental…kids quit because they don’t have the mental strength. When I came, I was a ‘hard body,’ but I started warming up with the teammates around me. I started learning how to play as a family and as a team player. There are 10 other guys on the field with me. In the trenches, you are playing for the teammates around you.”
Brown, who likes English class and reading, especially “scary” books, is the only player to be with Coach Cooper from the start of his Highline coaching career. “We started out with only 20 guys four years ago. Now we have 60 or more on the team. We have guys coming from different schools to play here. We have a lot of talent and are doing really well. As a senior, I want us to finish strong,” reflected Brown.
When Brown was asked about the line coming together as a unit, he said, “Communication has really improved on the team. Communication builds the line. We talk to one another. We speak up if we don’t know something and find the answer. We help each other. I feel like the only team that can beat us — is us. We have to stay locked in. Our loss was built on the mistakes we made. The coaches have put this into our minds.”
As a concluding question, I asked what they would like everyone to know about the team. A flow of collective thoughts and voices began to express one after the other, “How you do anything is how you do everything. How you do one play is how you do everything. We build on each other’s successes. We celebrate each other. You can see that after every score builds off each other’s energy. When a lineman gets a pancake or a tackle for a loss, we all celebrate. We get flags here and there, but we are a family and celebrate each other; we are happy for our success. We are not taunting; we are just happy for each other. We bleed with each other. When all our hard work comes together, that is where we are most excited,” they all said in a line-after-line expression. It’s clear that the Pirates have developed a spirit of unity and family that goes beyond the field.
“The ship has taken off!” Tautua declared, followed by a loud chorus of agreement from a team of friends who clearly love and support each other.
In the spirit of the Pirates team: “Let your yes be yes, your no be no. Now go home and tell someone you love them.”
At the time of publishing, the statistics were not available.
Photos By: Marco Orozco