Freedom Bowl Classic: Last chance for victory

Local football players set for Freedom Bowl

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

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The Freedom Bowl Classic means something to Vili Kaumatule.

Same with Junior Valencia.

Former teammates from Hudson's Bay High School, the two are together again on the West squad for Saturday night's all-star football game featuring recent graduates from Southwest Washington. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Kiggins Bowl.

For Kaumatule and Valencia, it's a shot at getting a win on the football field. The Eagles went 0-9 last fall.

"It's a good feeling knowing the coaches picked out kids who stood out," Kaumatule said. "We didn't do well (as a team), but the players are alright. It's an honor to be on this team."

Over on the East sideline, players from teams such as Washougal and Heritage want to go out winners, as well. The Panthers went 3-6 last fall, but did not get a league win. The Timberwolves had two wins total.

Sure, there will be stars from the bigger schools, the winning schools. There are players from Camas and Union on the East, Skyview and Columbia River on the West.

But the Freedom Bowl Classic gives those players who did experience a lot of victories one final shot at glory.

"We didn't win a lot of games during the season," said Austin Tofell of Washougal. "This gives me a chance to redeem it, with all these guys.

"We definitely have a good team," Tofell continued, looking around at the East squad at practice this week. "Some big boys and some big schools. That's something I'm not really used to."

"We ended our season on a loss," said Heritage's Jacob Gardiner. "This is a whole new way to make up for it. No better way to end your football career than a win in an all-star game. It's pretty exciting."

Gardiner said he jumped at the chance when he was invited to the game. Like a lot of his all-star teammates, this is probably his last organized football game.

"Just knowing you're being selected and noticed as one of the best," he said. "Plus, you get another chance to play, and you get to meet other players you went up against. During (regular-season) games, you probably didn't like some of them. Now you get to know them."

Kaumatule said he remembers getting notified he was on the team while he was in class in May.

"The whole day, I was happy," he said.

He said his goal is to have fun and make the most of his final football game.

"I've never played with a team with so many great athletes," Kaumatule said. "They're all so cut. It's just awesome."

Valencia is using this game to make up for some lost time. He missed the final two games of his senior season due to injury.

"I get one more time to lace it up and put on the shoulder pads and give it my all and hope for the best," Valencia said. "This gives me another chance to come back on the field and let it all out."

The West team does not have as much depth as the East — the East has a dozen more players practicing this week — but all who are preparing for the Freedom Bowl are talented.

"We're going to have a good shot at getting that W," Valencia said.

For some players from some schools, those wins are few and far between.

For them, this is their final opportunity in high school football.