STANWOOD — When Stanwood quarterback Drew Wright first met Laurence Wanambisi, he couldn’t have imagined the bond the two would one day share.
After all, Wright didn’t make a very good first impression.
“He hated me at first,” Wright said.
Wanambisi had good reason. Wright wasn’t exactly friendly when the two had their first interaction in middle school.
“I liked myself a lot and thought I could get away with a lot of things,” Wright said. “Laurence had a chocolate milk in front of him. To me, he was just some tall kid at school. I drilled his chocolate milk with an apple and it spilled all over him.
“He hated me for about a year. I never talked to him once, I just threw an apple.”
Wright has matured a lot since, and now, four years later, the two not only are friends, but brothers.
The Wright family became Wanambisi’s legal guardians when he was a sophomore after a series of family events compromised his chances of finishing high school in Stanwood. Two years later, the senior receiver, whose 536 receiving yards rank second in the Wesco 3A, has helped lead Stanwood to the brink of the quad-district playoffs. The Spartans play Mountlake Terrace at 8 p.m. today at Edmonds Stadium for the final 3A District 1 seed.
Wanambisi’s journey hasn’t been an easy one. In 2001, his father immigrated to Stanwood from Kenya to attend Skagit Valley Community College and Western Washington University. Laurence and the rest of the family followed seven years later when they won visas through a lottery conducted by the U.S. embassy,
A year later, his parents split up and Wanambisi moved in with his mother. When he was a sophomore, his mother announced she was leaving Stanwood. Not wanting to give up the life he had created and the friends he’d made — including the apple-throwing Wright — Wanambisi had an idea.
“He approached me a couple of years ago at a Lake Stevens basketball game,” Drew’s father, Dave, said. “His mom was moving away and he wanted to know if he could move in with us.”
The Wright family was used to having Wanambisi around. He had spent many nights at the house after he and Drew became friends.
“Trish and I sat down with Drew and Kylie, our daughter, and I told them what Laurence would like and we all agreed to it,” Dave said.
Wanambisi got the final approval he needed from his mother and moved in with his new family. The Wrights didn’t adopt Wanambisi, but they are his legal guardians. At home, he doesn’t hesitate to refer to Tricia and Dave as “mom and dad.” He also calls Drew and Kylie his “brother and sister.”
“They’re pretty much my family since I’ve moved in with them,” Wanambisi said. “They take care of me and they help me out when I have problems. They’re always there for me.
“Pretty much instead of saying ‘living with a friend’ it’s more like a brother because anything I have a problem with, (Drew) is the person I go talk to.”
Dave Wright said he never thought twice when Wanambisi called him dad.
“It just came naturally,” he said. “We have a very close bond as a family with him being part of the family. It was natural. It wasn’t really anything that seemed odd about it at all.”
After the apple-throwing incident — which Wanambisi said he doesn’t remember — the two became friends in eighth grade when Wanambisi joined the basketball team. At the time, Wanambisi’s on-court skills were lacking — as was his understanding of the game.
One time, Wanambisi took an elbow to the mouth from an opponent. Not realizing things like that happen in basketball, he retaliated. “I got really mad and took the ball and tossed it at him and we got ejected from the game,” Wanambisi said.
Saying he “tossed” the ball doesn’t do the story justice, Wright said.
“He dropped him with that basketball,” Wright said. “We were just like, ‘Wow, we don’t know what we’re dealing with.’”
Wanambisi wasn’t the only one who had to adjust to the new situation.
Shortly after turning 16, Wright was driving Wanambisi home from school when a police officer pulled him over for what turned out to be a broken tail light. In Washington state, newly licensed 16-year-old drivers aren’t allowed to carry a passenger younger than 20 unless they are immediate family. As Wright was being pulled over, something dawned on him.
“I was thinking, ‘How is he going to believe (Laurence) is my brother?’” Wright said.
“He looked at me and he looked over at Laurence and he said, ‘You know you’re driving (with a passenger) when you’re six months aren’t up yet?’” Wright said.
“Yeah, but he’s my brother,” Wright replied.
The officer laughed.
“He was like, ‘Don’t get smart with me,’” Wright said. “And I was like, ‘I’m not kidding.’”
Wright had to show the policeman Wanambisi’s room before the officer believed the boys were telling the truth.
Wanambisi’s progress on the football field has been slow, but steady.
“At first it was so frustrating,” Wright said. “I was like, ‘Laurence, you’ve got no prayer. You’re so big, but you have no prayer.’ And then each year he just started catching and catching and catching.”
Wanambisi improved so much that he recently set the school record for receiving yards in a game with 208 against Marysville Pilchuck.
Wright said he couldn’t be happier than to see his “brother” succeed.
“Everybody knows his potential. Everybody steps on the field and is like, ‘Wow, look at that kid,’” Wright said of the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Wanambisi, who won MVP at a passing camp over the summer. “Then you see him catch and play and make moves. He’s light years ahead of where he was last year. It’s just really cool to see how he’s progressed.”
Wanambisi’s high school career will be over whenever the Spartans’ season ends, but his relationship with the Wright family is just beginning.
“As a family we feel very blessed to have him …,” Dave Wright said. “He will be a part of our family forever.”
Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.