Prairie grad still reaching potential in football

Close didn’t play the sport until his freshman year

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It wasn’t that long ago when persuasion helped Wyatt Close turn out for a high school sport with no prior experience.

Backgrounds in soccer and baseball, yes, but as Close said, “I never thought football would be the sport I’d play.”

Close, Prairie High School’s all-league center, didn’t play football until ninth grade, but his size and frame got people’s attention.

Now, he hopes Saturday’s Freedom Bowl Classic isn’t his final football game. His ambitions include trying to land a walk-on roster spot at Central Washington University, where he’ll enroll this fall.

Close was a quick study from the start to end his career as a two-way starter for the Falcons. Last fall, he was Prairie’s only first-team all-league offensive selection.

And he’s still learning.

In fact, he’s picked up lingo left and right all week leading up to Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff at McKenzie Stadium with instruction provided by Hockinson coach Rick Steele, head coach of the West team, and Evergreen assistant and ex-Woodland head coach Mark Greenleaf.

“It’s still pretty intricate,” he said. “As a lineman, it’s a lot of different languages. Learning the coaches talk to every other player and in their language, it’s hard to still learn all of it.”

Close is one of seven Prairie players scheduled to play in Saturday’s game — all on the East roster — and sharing his annual Clark County event that benefits Shriners Hospital for Children in Portland with his high school teammates one final time is a feeling, he said, unlike any other.

“After a point,” he said, “they stop being your teammates and become family. … We create a lot of memories and create a lot of bonds.

“Out of my three years of wrestling and one year of track, I haven’t seen anything like what we created in football.”

The Freedom Bowl Classic begins with a pair of Clark County Youth Football games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at McKenzie Stadium. The all-star game starts at 7:30 p.m.

East roster

Kevin Aguirre, Prairie

Denis Baraiac, Heritage

Ryan Bishop, Hockinson

Nick Bobst, Prairie

Wyatt Close, Prairie

Theodore Fischer, Heritage

Alec Gawley, Prairie

Clayton Hansen, Stevenson

Tashiem Hurse, Heritage

Gannon Kytola, Hockinson

Gavin Lee, Heritage

Seth Mattix, Hockinson

Austin McLaughlin, Washougal

Luke Miller, Mountain View

Bryson Pena, Prairie

Bryan Person, Prairie

Devan Riggs, Hockinson

Zachary Saeman, Hockinson

Whitey Sosene, Heritage

Jaelen Stephen, Prairie

Jason Williams, Hockinson

Head coach: Rick Steele, Hockinson

West roster

Jared Bacon, Hudson’s Bay

Adam Blake, Battle Ground

Kaleb Fletcher-Haggard, Columbia River

Dalton Garrett, Columbia River

Matt Garrison, King’s Way Christian

Michael Garrison, King’s Way Christian

Jordan Hickman, Hudson’s Bay

Ryan Hull, Hudson’s Bay

Ashtin Jennings, R.A. Long

Daylin Kemmer, Ilwaco

Blake Krout, La Center

Spencer Matz, Battle Ground

Zack McCarthy, Mark Morris

Dillon Miller, R.A. Long

Derek Nelson, Skyview

Levi Nickelson, Skyview

Riley Opgrande, R.A. Long

Hunter Pearson, Columbia River

Walter Romero, Columbia River

Shawn Sadler, Columbia River

Keith Stricker, Columbia River

Sergio Vega-McBride, Hudson’s Bay

Casey WIshon, Hudson’s Bay

Jeremiah Wright, Skyview

Head coach: Christian Swain, Columbia River