Through the eyes of Ryan Stuck, the Seton Catholic football program has come a long way in the last four years.
He started his high school career as a freshman during the 2021 spring COVID season when the team had just 17 players. Now, the receiver/defensive back is the lone senior on a Seton Catholic team that enters the Week 10 postseason with an 8-1 record, the best single-season mark for the program since it started in 2011.
Stuck understands the Cougars’ growth better than most because, well, he’s been there the longest.
“I definitely have a pretty unique perspective,” Stuck said.
The Cougars play Tenino (2-7) in Friday’s Class 1A district playoff round on their home field, which will be the first time they’ve hosted a playoff game. A win means the Cougars advance to the 1A state playoffs, and guarantees their senior at least one more week in his prep football career.
“We’re all pumped,” Stuck said. “I love Friday night lights, but a playoff Friday night lights is just going to be a different thing. There’s real stakes (to) it, where it’s like, if you lose this game, you’re done. That’s going to bring a lot more energy and a lot more excitement.”
In four years playing at Seton, Stuck has seen slow but steady year-by-year improvements in the program.
Seton finished 3-2 under then-coach Dennis Herling in the spring 2021 season when Stuck was the only freshman on the team, and was essentially “thrown into the fire” while trying to adjust to high school football. He also played alongside brother Lance Stuck, two grades above him, and often leaned on him for guidance.
In the 2021 fall season, the Cougars reached the Week 10 postseason game before losing to Eatonville. The following season, Seton Catholic improved by two wins to 5-5 and also reached the Week 10 game where it lost to Montesano.
Ahead of the 2023 season, Stuck sensed a different vibe within the team at its summer camp, an annual event that is often a good indicator of the team’s unity, he said.
“I felt like everyone was focused in and dialed in the whole time,” Stuck said. “Everyone was constantly paying attention, everyone was asking each other questions. It felt a lot like a brotherhood.”
What the Cougars built over the summer translated to the season. They won their first six games, and have only lost once, to Trico League foe La Center, which is 9-0 heading into the postseason.
The Cougars’ success has come from many different places, some years in the making.
Stuck is a big part of it. Not only is the senior a dependable player on the field for the team, he’s always willing to help others and coach them up, Seton Catholic coach Dan Chase said. It’s a way for Stuck to pay forward his experience in the program.
“Hopefully I can kind of be that guy for some of these guys that don’t have a lot of experience,” Stuck said.
Coaches also benefit from having a player like Stuck who often relays insights from the field that might not be seen on the sideline. That football IQ is especially valuable to the Cougars.
“He’s a student of the game, he loves the game (and) he’s going to play at the next level,” Chase said. “It’s really a blessing to have him on the team and he’s a great kid too. He’s always following the rules, he’s leading by example … he’s just a great senior leader.”
He also puts a high emphasis on academics with a 4.0 GPA and has plans of playing football in college. Earlier this fall, he received an offer of admission support from MIT’s football program, and has also visited a number of Ivy League schools.
Those things will come in due time, but the focus is on Friday. The game will be unique to Stuck as the only senior, knowing Seton needs to keep winning in order to advance. It’s not daunting for the senior, though, because of the total confidence he has in his teammates and coaches.
“It is kind of weird being the only senior,” Stuck said, “but the team has been so supportive and just dialed in. It doesn’t really feel like I’m alone because everyone else is treating it the same way.”
During four unique years in the program, Stuck is proud of the Cougars’ progress from then to now.
“Just seeing the growth of the program one step at a time has been such a cool experience for me,” he said. “Seeing the different personalities that come along and just sticking with it, it’s been a very unique experience that I’ll remember forever.”