A fill-in start at cornerback for a 2021 Week 10 playoff game presented Skyview’s Gavin Packer with an opportunity to make a splash as a freshman.
He replaced injured teammate Jaydin Knapp and helped the Storm seal the win against Kamiak by providing the exclamation point on a 103-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The moment went down as Packer’s first introduction to high school playoff football, and something he’s continued to build on ever since.
“It just created some momentum for me,” Packer said. “Just getting my name out there and showing them what I can do — what I know I can do.”
Now a junior, that performance marked the beginning of a steady trend for the receiver, defensive back and return specialist. When the calendar flips to November and the playoffs begin, Packer consistently elevates his game to another level.
Most recent case in point was Skyview’s Class 4A state playoff game last Saturday, when Packer posted three first-half touchdown receptions as the Storm soared to a 42-7 win over Skyline to reach the state quarterfinals for the first time since 2016. This week, No. 5 seed Skyview (10-1) travels to face No. 4 Eastlake on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Part of what Packer likes about the playoffs are the high stakes involved, serving as extra motivation for the Storm to keep their promising season going.
“I think it’s just, (there’s) more to it,” he said. “You gotta stay alive. You lose, you go home. It just means more.
“We all love being around each other and we don’t want that to end. We just gotta win it for our guys. Everybody just wants it so bad.”
Packer suffered a hamstring injury during the summer at a Gonzaga basketball camp while going for a chase-down block. The injury and subsequent re-injury late in August was a result of overexertion, Packer said, which kept him out for the first two weeks of the season.
Upon making his return Week 3 against Bothell, the big-play receiver has been one of the top targets for quarterback Jake Kennedy with 10 touchdowns, 668 receiving yards and an average of 21 yards per catch.
“He came back,” Skyview coach Steve Kizer said, “and he continues to get better each week.”
Remarkably, Packer is still learning how to play receiver. He was a quarterback growing up and played the position on Skyview’s freshman football team. But with the emergence of dual-threat QB Kennedy, now a senior, it made sense for Packer to switch.
The receiver and quarterback have spent ample amounts of time training together over the last two offseasons at Skyview’s practice field while Packer continues to master the nuances of the position.
“Just trying to get details,” Packer said, “and I’m still trying to get better with the details, like perfecting route-running … knowing what yards to get to, I know what yards to get to, but getting myself to do it every time.”
The biggest difference Kizer sees in Packer from freshman year to now is his physical growth. The 5-foot-11 junior estimated weighing 149 pounds at the end of the 2022 season. By the end of basketball season, he was frustrated by feeling weaker.
So, he went to work during the offseason and added 25 pounds, hitting a high of 178 over the summer.
“He just looks better,” Kizer said. “He didn’t lose any quickness, but he’s more durable, although he pulled his hamstring earlier in the year, but he’s been more durable in the upper body. You see him breaking tackles that he wouldn’t have before. He’s one of the stronger skill guys we have.”
It also helps that Packer’s dad, Brad Packer, leads Skyview’s weight program and runs A3 Advanced Athlete Academy, a Vancouver-based performance training facility. As early as 2011, Gavin Packer tagged along with his dad to Skyview training sessions and tried to emulate some of their workouts.
“His dad runs our weight program … so he has no choice. He has to be strong,” Kizer joked. “But I think he bought in and really likes it.”
As a whole, Kizer said the Storm’s buy-in to workouts are a key part of their success so far. A class schedule change at Skyview this school year forced the Storm football team to adjust their routine. Now, they lift weights before school at 6:30 a.m., then practice from 3:30 to as late as 6:15 p.m.
“So, we’re outworking everybody and I think the in-season weight lifting we’ve been doing (is) the reason we’re probably here,” Kizer said. “We’ve never been this healthy, knock on wood. … It seems like we just keep getting stronger.”
And come playoff time, players like Packer seem to get stronger, too. For the second year in a row, the Storm are the last big-school football team from Clark County still standing.
“We have resilience,” Packer said. “We know if we don’t play our game, it’s going to hurt us, but we just all trust each other. It’s a great team. A bunch of dudes on this team.”