Lance Stuck has seen a lot in his four years playing football at Seton Catholic.
There were three different head coaches in his first three seasons.
There was the roster of less than 20 players when coach Dennis Herling led the Cougars into their season last February.
All of that made Stuck cherish the moment even more last Saturday when Seton Catholic clinched its first postseason berth in school history.
On Thursday, the Cougars (3-6) will travel to play No. 2 Eatonville in Spanaway in a Class 1A District 4 playoff.
“It means everything,” the 6-foot-3 senior said after Seton’s 42-8 win over Fort Vancouver. “Freshman and sophomore year, we had one league win combined, and we couldn’t compete with anyone in our league. We were struggling.
“But these past two (seasons), we got third place in the league last year. Obviously, there wasn’t any playoff. But we knew after that, we could compete in this league and get to the playoffs. So it means everything.”
In 2018, Stuck’s freshman season, Seton Catholic went 4-5 overall and 1-4 in the Trico League under Will Ephraim in the Cougars’ second season after breaking free from a combined program with King’s Way Christian.
In 2019, the Cougars went 4-4 and 0-4 in the Trico under interim coach Dan Chase.
But things started to change when Herling was hired as head coach in the spring of 2020 amid the pandemic. When the Cougars finally were able to take the field last February, there were fewer than 20 players on the roster.
Still, the Cougars were able to give Herling a win in his debut, beating Columbia of White Salmon 28-26 in overtime. Stuck caught two touchdown passes in the game, including one in overtime.
It put the Cougars on a course to secure a playoff spot last week.
“We weren’t going to accept anything less than the playoffs this year,” Stuck said. “That was the goal from Day 1.”
Stuck was a big reason for that in many ways. He led the region in receiving this season with 44 catches for 824 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He also plays defensive back, and he’s been the team’s kicker since sophomore season.
“I remember sophomore year our kicker got hurt,” Stuck said. “I played soccer my freshman year. I played soccer for a long time actually. I just kind of volunteered and it just rode from there because (the original kicker) didn’t come back that season. I’ve been the kicker ever since then.”
That mostly entails handling kickoffs as Herling is one of those coaches who likes his odds of going for two after touchdowns instead of kicking.
Still, Stuck was hoping for a shot at a field goal last week. But the breezy conditions Saturday led Herling to decide against it.
“I was lobbying the coach at the end of the half there to take a timeout,” he said. “I wanted the field goal. But it’s all right. I like scoring touchdowns better than field goals.”
Even though he is not particularly vocal, Stuck is one of the team captains, and Herling said he leads by example.
“His play speaks for itself, but as far as everything else off the field, he’s solid,” Herling said. “He has one of the highest GPAs I’ve ever seen. He’s a super smart kid, great kid off the field, super responsible. On our Senior Night, our kids write comments about the seniors. And they called him the Dad of the team. And that couldn’t be more true. He really is. He’s kind of that figure for these guys on the team, which is great.”
Stuck said he has enjoyed his journey with the Seton football team, and he’s excited about what lies ahead for the program.
“It’s been a blessing,” Stuck said. “We had an amazing freshman class this year. They’re going to take this program to new levels. They’ve got 20 guys who are freshmen now, and I believe there are 25-30 coming in next year. It’s going to be great to see the program grow. I’m happy to be a part of this foundation. (The playoff berth) is a first for Seton, but it’s going to be the first of many.”
Eatonville will be a heavy favorite on Thursday night, and that’s fine with Stuck. It won’t be the first time Stuck and the Cougars have faced long odds.
“It’s our first time in the playoffs, but we want to try to make some noise,” Stuck said. “We think we have a good football team here. We think we can make some noise. We’re going to battle with every ounce that we’ve got. That’s what they have to expect.”