To get permission to start a football program at Northwest Christian High School, Pete Fulton, a long-time coach, said he’d volunteer.
And, with the help of two anonymous donors, he’d also write the school a check for $25,000 to cover startup costs.
“As soon as the check for $25,000 showed up, they were convinced,” Fulton said. “It was a financial decision.”
Because of Fulton’s dream to bring football to Northwest Christian, and because of two men willing to write checks to make that dream a reality, the small Christian school in Lacey got a football team three years ago.
Fulton has taught at Northwest Christian since the school opened 11 years ago and wanted to get back into coaching. He was the head coach at Timberline High School for five years in the 1980s and was an assistant at North Thurston eight years.
“As a Christian, the Lord confirmed it to me that this was something he wanted me to do,” Fulton said. “Everything just fell into place.”
Football both filled a niche in Fulton’s life and gave a school with an enrollment of 210 a chance at having Friday night lights.
“Part of it’s personal. My wife died. I don’t want to go to Arizona for the winter,” Fulton said about his decision to get back into coaching. “And I feel young around the players.”
There have been some growing pains. After going 1-18 the first two seasons, Northwest Christian went 2-8 last season, losing three games in the closing minutes. With no home field, the Navigators play their “home games” at Rainier High School. However, the team now practices on campus for the first time and doesn’t have to go across the street to practice on the baseball field at Chinook Middle School.
Coming off a two-win season, Fulton returns six starters on offense and seven on defense. He’s optimistic.
“We’ve got team quickness in the skill positions,” Fulton said. “The potential is there.”
At quarterback, Ben Connor and Gabe Wadsworth are sharing time. Connor, a senior, has started at quarterback since he was a sophomore. But Fulton wants to move him to fullback to better utilize his running skills.
“Gabe has some things we can’t coach. He’s 6-1,” Fulton said. “Ben has been an excellent runner and we want to get him the ball more. This year he’ll be running a lot. We hope it’s at fullback.”
The turnout is down this year. Only 24 turned out, about 16 fewer than usual. To compensate, Fulton will start up to six players both ways.
“We’ve got talent,” Fulton said.
Just not depth.
“We have 15 really talented young men,” Fulton said. “That should convince everyone that we don’t recruit.”
Fulton is impressed with his offensive line, which includes center Michael Heemstra, guards Caleb Fritz and Dan Collins – all returning starters.
“We have five pretty good linemen. We need some help with the backups,” Fulton said. “If our line play isn’t too good, we might put Ron Holmes in there.”
Holmes, one of Fulton’s assistant coaches, was an All-American defensive tackle at the University of Washington in the 1980s. Fulton coached Holmes at Timberline.
All of Fulton’s assistants – Holmes, Terry Shaw, Jeremy Clark, Ben Briggs and Wayne Rankin – are volunteers. Yet they all share the same goal – to win.
The school has embraced the team. Fans – parents and students – travel to games at South Bend, Willapa Valley and Naselle.
“Sometimes we have more fans than the home team,” Fulton said. “It’s been a great experience.”
Northwest Christian opens the season against Pe Ell on Friday at Rainier.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5432
2-8 overall, 2-4 league
Pete Fulton, fourth year
O: Fulton, Ben Briggs, spread
D: Terry Shaw, 3-5
RETURNING STARTERS: 7 offense, 6 defense
G/DE Dan Collins, 6-2, 180, sr.
C/DT Michael Heemstra, 6-0, 220, sr.
WR/DB Fess Doelman, 5-8, 145, sr.
WR/DB Airick Owens, 5-11, 145, sr.
G Caleb Fritz, 6-1, 190, sr.
QB/RB/FS Ben Connor, 5-11, 175, jr.
RB/LB Steve Dunn, 6-2, 195, jr.
“With a change in our offense, we should be very entertaining to watch. We have five very quick and strong runners. We hope to compete for the playoffs. Last year could have been better. We could have been 6-4 instead of 2-8.”
Team’s homecoming game will be at Rochester or Rainier. The Navigators don’t have a home field.