Garfield's football rebirth carries to WSU

SYMBOLICALLY, Garfield High School’s return from two decades of football oblivion was never more apparent than the chilly night in Pullman last month when Washington State defeated Colorado.

On the field before the game stood five players from the class 3A school in Seattle and their head coach. It’s probably not too far fetched to think they’re the first Bulldogs to get this close to Cougar football since the days of "Fab Five" Rose Bowl receiver Shawn McWashington.

The two seniors, one junior and two sophomores weren’t in Pullman on official recruiting visits.

This was unofficial and it was spearheaded by their coach, former Cougar running back Derek Sparks (red jacket above), who wanted some of his top players to get a taste of what’s possible.

The visit included handshakes with WSU quarterbacking legends Jason Gesser and Jack Thompson.

“It's fun for them to get a close-up look at what WSU has to offer from a football and academic stand point," Sparks told CF.C this week. "I'm proud to showcase WSU to my players as a viable option to reach their dreams.”

That’s not to say these players are high on Pac-12 recruiting grease boards. But, Sparks notes, they have next-level potential -- something that has been routine for Garfield basketball over the years but a rarity in football.

One of those on hand was 6-1, 160-pound sophomore quarterback Max Nall (far left above). He was introduced to CF.C readers three years ago in a crazy-good highlight tape we stumbled across when he was in seventh grade (and, it turns out, being mentored at the time by Thompson).

“Max is a young man with his eyes fixed on the prize,” said Sparks. “His goal is to be the next great quarterback at Washington State University.”

He has a ways to go to get Mike Leach’s attention but the outlook is bright, says Sparks.

In the just-concluded season, Nall completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,003 yards, 12 TDs and 7 interceptions. “Not bad for your first (varsity) campaign,” said Sparks. “He certainly got the league’s attention.”

Nalls’ calm under pressure — “years beyond his age,” says dad Mike — bodes well for his college prospects.

In addition to Nall, the other Bulldogs who trekked to Pullman for the Colorado game were:

  • Cameron McKinney, a 5-8, 160-pound senior who earned first-team all-league honors at running back and cornerback and honorable mention plaudits at punter. He holds a scholarship offer from Central Washington, has interest from Portland State and is hearing from WSU and UW, Sparks reports.

  • William Marley, a 5-10, 187-pound senior linebacker who earned second-team all-League honors. He is hearing from CWU and Portland State.

  • Keith Edwards, a 6-2, 183-pound junior who was named first-team all-league at safety and second-team at wide receiver. He is hearing from UW, EWU and PSU.

  • Carrington Henry, a 6-0, 210-pound sophomore who played both o-line and d-line and was named all-league honorable mention.

    The Bulldogs finished 5-4 this season to post their second-straight winning season. A year ago, Sparks’ debut at the helm, GHS earned a playoff berth for the first time since 1992.

    SPARKS SAID HIS TENURE AT GARFIELD has been eye opening.

    “Working in the counseling department allows me to pull back the layers of each of my players to see where they come from and identify the barriers that are causing them to fall short of their goals. What I found is heart breaking.

    “We are dealing with homelessness and the trauma that comes with that. We have students that are walking our hallways that are living in cars, on the street, a friend’s couch, hotel or shelter,” Sparks said.

    The team mantra is “All In.”

    “In order for us to be successful as a program we need everyone on board and share the vision,” he said. “I’m fortunate to work with an administration that believes in that vision. The school has bought in and supports the mission of being ALL IN.”

    Sparks is helping live that mantra outside of school as well. He founded a non-profit organization called House of Champions that provides a 3,020-square-foot house — with a full-time “House Coach” on the premises — for six homeless students to live in.

    This Saturday, Sparks will be honored for his homeless work at a dinner gala put on by Angels in Sports, a Renton-based charity providing academic support and sports training opportunities for underprivileged student-athletes.

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