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Nov. 30, 2023

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Two years after program went “on pause,” King’s Way Christian football is on the right path

Knights are 2-0 in second season back at varsity level following winless 2021 season

By , Columbian staff writer
5 Photos
King's Way seniors Aidan Sweeney, from left, Jamison Duke, Alec Charlton, junior Brayden Schiefer and senior Marcus Whitney stand for a portrait Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at King's Way Christian High School. The football team is 2-0 in its second year back competing at a varsity level.
King's Way seniors Aidan Sweeney, from left, Jamison Duke, Alec Charlton, junior Brayden Schiefer and senior Marcus Whitney stand for a portrait Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022, at King's Way Christian High School. The football team is 2-0 in its second year back competing at a varsity level. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

On a recent afternoon at King’s Way Christian, Jamison Duke stood on the fringes of the football field reflecting on the unusual situation he and teammates have been through in the last few years of the Knights’ program.

First came the announcement from the school in the summer of 2020 that the football team would be put “on pause,” citing a decline in participation, and players joined other teams.

Duke, now a senior, played his sophomore season at Evergreen while attending King’s Way.

Then, King’s Way reversed course in May 2021, opting to bring back high school football for the fall with an independent schedule in Class 1A lined up.

Just a few months to develop a team was an unenviable position for players and first-year head coach Nick Mancillas. The Knights went winless during an 0-7 season.

Which makes what they’ve done one year later all the more remarkable.

King’s Way (2-0) has opened the first two weeks with road wins over Stevenson and Ilwaco, outscoring the two teams by a combined 79-14.

At Stevenson, a handful of the team’s 11 seniors won their first game wearing a King’s Way uniform since their freshmen season in 2019. For others, it was their first ever.

The early results don’t mean the Knights are satisfied, especially with Trico League play starting in a couple weeks. But, they’ve gained some much-needed confidence while validating the work players and coaches have put in to get the program moving in the right direction.

“We’ve built this,” Duke said, gesturing toward players and coaches running through practice on the turf field. “We’re 2-0 so far, we’ve gained more players, more respect.”

The high school program is up to 38 players (it had 26 last year) with an additional 30 players on the middle school team, which practices on the same field opposite the high school players to “keep those kids connected and keep them looking at a bigger picture themselves, so they can see themselves out here really soon,” Mancillas said.

The small-school atmosphere at King’s Way means practically everyone knows each other. Building connections among players is pretty easy. They practice, attend classes, hang out away from school and pray together.

“At most schools, I would say the underclassmen don’t hang out with the upperclassmen, but that’s not the case on our team,” senior receiver and linebacker Alec Charlton said.

Being at a small school also means there’s no hiding, no blending in with a crowd. During the winless season, in addition to the chatter aimed at them from opposing teams, players also heard about their misfortunes upon returning to school.

“Last year, we’d come to school on Monday and never hear the end. We were getting blown out. It’s just the truth of the matter,” said Duke, a receiver and defensive back.

The program resumed after gaining some momentum during the spring of 2021 with an impromptu middle school season led by Mancillas. From that, an interest grew within the community to bring back football at the high school level.

“We rallied and we were able to get a lot of family support to put a varsity team back sooner rather than later,” the head coach said. “We jumped at the chance. Inexperience, a lot of youth and the 0-7 (season) is a result of that.”

While players were excited to be back representing their home school on the football field, they were playing catch up after the one-year pause. Some, like Duke, Aidan Sweeney (Prairie) and Brayden Schiefer (Columbia River) went to other programs during the pause, while others, like Charlton did not. They had just one senior on the team. Many questioned why the program was even shuttered in the first place.

“I didn’t like that we didn’t have a football team. I think we still would’ve had enough players to have a team anyway,” Charlton said. “I’m really happy that we got it back up. But the school spirit, no football in the fall, it was down.”

Now? The jeers have been replaced with cheers.

“We shocked a lot of people,” senior defensive back Marcus Whitney said, “and we’re going to keep shocking people. It’s been good energy, we’ve just been encouraging each other and it’s been fun walking around the hallways with a few wins under our belt.”

Some might think the energy surrounding the program is a byproduct of winning, but players insist they sensed it from the beginning of the season.

To start, the mindset at practices and inside the locker room before games is more focused and ready to go, said Sweeney, a senior receiver, defensive lineman and linebacker.

There’s also the motivating force of a winless season, the desire to prove doubters wrong, and the realization they had a lot of work ahead of them to get better. They still do.

“I think losing last season really helped us because we knew we had to put in work if we want to be better this year. So we did it, and we’re just coming together,” said Schiefer, the starting quarterback who’s tallied 637 passing yards and nine touchdowns through two games.

“Last year was just super unorthodox, you could put it. We couldn’t find any team chemistry, but this year it’s a lot different.”

After two weeks on the road, the Knights will play in front of their home fans when they host Meridian on Friday at 6 p.m. For a program that was put on pause just two years ago and went without a win last season, the Knights are eager to let people know how far they’ve come in a short time.

“I’ve gone here since kindergarten. It’s been a great time coming back and playing for my home school,” Sweeney said. “Just the pride that comes with it. We just want to show people what King’s Way football is about and how good we can be.”

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