After each Friday night football game, players on the Yelm High School team have a tradition of handing out Superman “S” helmet stickers for superior on-field efforts.
But for this year, for one player – senior Jacob Swilley – the iconic emblem means so much more.
Swilley isn’t trying to be Superman. Far from it. But every football Friday night, he’ll put on a specially designed red and black T-shirt underneath his uniform that features a Superman logo and the words “For Rachel” and “9” on the back. In this case, the “S” stands for “strong,” “sassy” and “sarcastic.”
Those words are how Swilley described his best friend, Rachel Vaughn, an Olympia High School junior who died from kidney cancer last spring.
Finding a way to honor their friendship had been on Swilley’s mind. The night before she died in early March, he sent a text message to Vaughn, asking about her her favorite number. Nine was the response he received. In addition to the game-day T-shirt he’ll wear under his uniform, Swilley will wear a “9” sticker on his helmet.
“I wanted to do something special with it,” Swilley said. “I knew she was near the end. I wanted to honor our friendship and what she meant to me, and how great of a person she was.”
Added Randy Swilley, Jacob’s father and Yelm’s football coach: “This was all his idea. It’s not very often you lose your 17-year-old friend to cancer. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, (talking) with him about it. You’re not prepared for this one.”
Jacob Swilley, who lives in Olympia, has attended Yelm schools since ninth grade. But he attended Washington Middle School in Olympia with Vaughn and their friendship survived going to separate schools.
The friendship between their fathers, Randy and Doug, dates back decades, to when they were classmates and teammates at Olympia High and the University of Puget Sound.
Vaughn, a soccer and fastpitch player as a freshman at Olympia, found time to attend Swilley’s extracurricular activities even after her diagnosis in February 2011. The final Yelm football game she saw was last October against Lincoln, which defeated the Tornados, 40-13.
And when Jacob Swilley approached the Vaughns last spring with his plans for a tribute to his friend, they appreciated the gesture and gave him their blessing.
“It’s really neat what he’s doing,” said Doug Vaughn. “The approach he’s tried to take is that it’s about her and not him. That’s pretty cool.”
Jacob Swilley enters his final season at Yelm as one of the more decorated players in the school’s 85-year football history. He has had back-to-back seasons of rushing for 1,000-plus yards and is 564 yards away from becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher.
He’ll be the first to tell you none of the statistics matter, not now that his senior season has more special significance.
“It will mean more to me,” Swilley said.
Home games in CAPS. All games at 7 p.m. unless noted
Friday, Aug. 31: at Highline, 5 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 7: OLYMPIC
Friday, Sept. 14: at Stadium *
Friday, Sept. 21: at Shelton
Friday, Sept. 28: at Central Kitsap *
Friday, Oct. 5: SOUTH KITSAP *
Friday, Oct. 12: at Bellarmine Prep *
Friday, Oct. 19: GIG HARBOR *
Friday, Oct. 26: OLYMPIA * About the TORNADOs
Coach: Randy Swilley, fifth year
2011 record: 2-7, 4th in Narrows 3A.
Offense: Coordinator (set) - Randy Swilley (multiple). Returning starters – 6. Top players – OL Cody Anderson, 5-10, 260, sr.; RB Kyle Brownell, 5-10, 175, sr.; RB Quentin Buck, 5-10, 175, jr.; RB Jacob Swilley 5-10, 185, sr.
Defense: Coordinator (set) – Randy Swilley (4-3). Returning starters – 6. Top players – DB Quentin Buck, 5-10, 175, jr.; DB Greg Martin, 6-1, 175, jr.; DL Nathan Mix, 6-1, 230, jr.; DE Max Painter, 5-10, 175, sr.; DB Jacob Swilley, 5-10, 185, sr.
Outlook: One of the schools that moved up after reclassification, Yelm will test the 4A waters for the first time. Again, much will be asked of Jacob Swilley – the coach’s son – in his bid for three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And he’ll have to try to accomplish that behind a smaller offensive firstname.lastname@example.org 360-754-5473 www.theolympian.com/southsoundsports @megwochnick * 4A Narrows League game email@example.com