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Next level players: Holden Bea, Ryan Kawalek building the football family at Idaho

Washougal QB, La Center lineman committed to Vandals’ for 2024

By Meg Wochnick, Columbian staff writer
Published: August 26, 2023, 6:04am
2 Photos
Washougal quarterback Holden Bea (5) found the end zone quite a bit in 2022 as he led the Panthers to the Class 2A state playoffs.
Washougal quarterback Holden Bea (5) found the end zone quite a bit in 2022 as he led the Panthers to the Class 2A state playoffs. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Washougal’s Holden Bea and La Center’s Ryan Kawalek haven’t faced off in a non-league high school football game, but they’re slowly getting to know one another before joining up as teammates next fall at the University of Idaho.

The two small-school players separated by 35 miles are part of a group text of the Vandals’ Class of 2024 commits. The text chain is a way of welcoming a new class of players and learning more about their future teammates, Bea and Kawalek said.

“Every time we get a new commit,” Bea said, “we welcome them into the family.”

Added Kawalek: “We’re building a family through it. … We’re all super excited to play football at the University of Idaho.”

Each has their own reasons for choosing Moscow, Idaho, as their home for the next several years, too.

Bea: ‘Like a second home’

Without question, Holden Bea can make the drive to Idaho’s campus without the need for a navigation system.

“I’ve been there a lot,” said Bea, Washougal’s quarterback and reigning 2A Greater St. Helens League offensive MVP. “It was already like a second home, and now, it’s even more like my second home.”

That’s because since 2019-20, a Bea family member has played women’s basketball at Idaho. Last season, three Beas — older sisters Beyonce and Skylar, plus a cousin, Jaiden — were on the roster.

Soon, Holden Bea will be on campus.

Idaho plays football at the Football Championship Series level and has been a Big Sky Conference member since 2018. Bea dove into why he chose to play football at a FCS-level school when other larger schools at the Football Bowl Subdivision level expressed interest in the quarterback.

“With Idaho,” Bea said, “it felt like they wanted me. … And the way I look at it, I wanted to be wanted, and Idaho made it pretty clear. And that feels good and ultimately, that really helped me make my decision pretty easy.”

For Bea, Idaho is a natural fit, and he carved his own path through football.

This fall marks Bea’s third year as Washougal’s starting quarterback. He’s coming off a 2022 season with 2,559 yards and 30 touchdown passes while leading the Panthers to the Class 2A playoffs. But he’s poised to do more beyond statistics in his final high school season.

“It’s more of the mental game for me,” he said. “Physically, I’m going to be bigger, faster, stronger this year, but mentally, I’m going to be more confident and more precise about the reads I’m making. … This year I’m trying to eliminate those mistakes and just follow the game and take it where it takes me.”

Kawalek: ‘Super excited to get started’

When Ryan Kawalek isn’t playing football for La Center, there’s a good chance you can find him at his favorite fishing spot in Southwest Washington.

Where that is, Kawalek isn’t sharing.

“It’s classified information,” he said, smiling.

What he’ll gladly share is why Idaho is the best place for him. He’s visited the campus twice since February.

“It didn’t really take long for me to know that I wanted to go to Idaho,” said Kawalek, La Center’s right tackle. “You can just feel the energy in there and in everything they do.

“I’m super excited to get started and get working with their strength staff and (offensive line) coach (Cody) Booth to see how far he can take me.”

It’s hard to find lineman Kawalek’s size — 6-foot-3, 295 pounds — at the Class 1A level. He’s been a mainstay on La Center’s offensive line at left or right tackle since his freshman year and is the two-time reigning 1A Trico League lineman of the year.

Idaho’s plan for Kawalek, he said, is moving him into the interior — at guard or possibly center.

What does Kawalek like about playing on the line? He gave the question a good thought.

“I’ve never been asked that before,” he said. “I like being able to just move people from point A to point B without them being able to do anything. That’s cool with me. And I like protecting my quarterback.”

Idaho has six players on its 2023 roster who hail from Washington’s Class 1A schools. Despite playing at the 1A level in high school, Kawalek said he and his teammates never back down from a challenge when facing higher-classification schools at summer scrimmages or jamborees.

The Wildcats hold their own.

So does Kawalek.

“We’ve never gotten pushed around, so I feel like we can compete,” he said.