Like most sophomores playing varsity football for the first time, Jacob Schuster was just trying to figure things out on the fly.
“It was all kind of a blur actually,” Schuster said about the 2018 Tumwater High School football season. “It went by so fast. I don’t really remember much. I was just trying to find my place on the team and help out anyway I could.”
Schuster more than helped.
The Thunderbirds have had several players receive league defensive MVP honors over their near four decade run as one of the state’s premiere programs. No player, however, had ever won the award as a sophomore.
That is until Schuster’s breakout season last year.
Making the accomplishment even more impressive was the fact that Schuster doesn’t play a skilled position. He is an interior defensive lineman, battling in the trenches and physically fighting off double teams every play.
“When we had our league meeting at the end of the year, the opposing coaches were all unanimous in saying they had to scheme their blocking to stop him,” said Tumwater coach Bill Beattie about his star defensive tackle. “They had to come up with a plan to try and block him. He altered what they had to do on offense. He was someone on defense they had to take into consideration every play.”
High praise for a conference known for its strong defensive play, but Schuster was simply that disruptive and could never be overlooked, and he did it all at the age of 15.
“That’s the amazing part,” Beattie said. “The kid doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet.”
If last year was what Schuster was capable of when he was still piecing everything together, what will the 2019 season look like for the 6-foot-2, 310-pound defensive tackle who now has a year of varsity experience on his resume?
Things won’t get any easier for opposing offensive linemen in the 2A Evergreen Conference this season as Schuster is not only bigger and stronger, but even more determined to lead the T-Birds to success.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” said Schuster about being the 2A Evergreen Conference’s top defensive player last year, “but it’s not just me (winning the award), the entire defense earned it. Everyone is making sacrifices. We’re a team here.”
That they are, and said team has some size this year as Schuster isn’t the only oversized terror Tumwater will place on the line. He will be joined by 6-4, 290-pound Villami Hafoka, giving the T-Birds potentially the best EvCo lineman on both sides of the ball.
Hafoka, a senior who already has a handful of college scholarship offers, including one from Northern Colorado, was a first-team all-conference pick as an offensive tackle last year. He will once again man the left tackle position with Schuster sliding into the right side.
Hafoka will check in and join Schuster during certain defensive situations, providing Tumwater with a formidable interior presence.
“Those two guys have to be 48-minute guys for us,” Beattie said. “That’s the mindset they have to have coming in. They’ve really worked hard this offseason. They knew they better get themselves in shape if they are going to go out there and play 48 minutes of football, and that’s what they did this summer.”
Providing added motivation during the summer cardio sessions was last season’s stumbles.
Tumwater had plenty to celebrate last season as the T-Birds won 10 games and advanced to the 2A state quarterfinals for a ninth straight season, but Schuster and Hafoka mostly remember the two setbacks.
“The losses stick with you,” Schuster said, “but they pushed us to become better this offseason.”
Failing to win the conference title for the first time since 2009 following a regular season loss to rival Black Hills, T-Birds saw their season end following a 28-27 defeat to Lynden in the quarterfinals of the 2A state playoffs. The Lions went on to lose in the title game to defending state champion Hockinson, a team which defeated Tumwater, 33-28, in previous season’s state championship.
“Being around the seniors last year really helped because we all saw their passion for the game and for Tumwater football,” Hafoka said. “They just wanted to make the program better, and now it’s our turn to continue that tradition. We all have the same goal. The team comes first, and we all want to try and strive for greatness.”
The T-Birds open their season at home on Friday, September 6, in a non-conference match-up against visiting Timberline.