EVERETT — Frustrated and disappointed, but no less determined to be a united team, the Archbishop Murphy High School football players stood behind their coach during a Wednesday afternoon press conference, all of them wearing their game jerseys.
Following a third straight Cascade Conference forfeit, it has been the only opportunity for the players to wear those jerseys since a Sept. 16 game against King’s.
After that game, a 38-0 victory that gave the Wildcats a 3-0 record, teams from South Whidbey, Sultan and this week Granite Falls announced they would not play Archbishop Murphy as scheduled. The foremost reason for the forfeits, each school said, was a concern for player safety against the bigger, stronger and faster Wildcats.
At Wednesday’s carefully managed press conference, two school administrators addressed a gathering of media, followed by head coach and athletic director Jerry Jensen, and then players Abraham Lucas and Anfernee Gurley.
The message was one of unity, resolve and a determination to overcome what was repeatedly described as “adversity.”
“My comments on this entire situation, I’m just ready to get back on the field and start playing again,” said Lucas, a 6-foot-8, 260-pound senior offensive tackle and defensive end who has committed to play next season at Washington State University.
Added Gurley, a 5-11, 175-pound senior offensive and defensive back who also is drawing NCAA Division I recruiting interest: “I feel like this situation has really brought our team together as a family. We’ve been through adversity together and we’ve really banded together. … At the end of the day, we want to play football.”
The press conference was intended to highlight the educational and faith-based benefits of the student experience at Archbishop Murphy, and to make clear that football players are gaining in more ways than simply winning games.
It also was a response to claims from league rivals about the use of improper recruiting and enticements to attract athletes. Those allegations were aired in public Tuesday night at a meeting in Granite Falls for parents, players, coaches and district officials, a get-together that preceded that team’s forfeit.
Both Lucas and Gurley said they were initially drawn to Archbishop Murphy because of the strong academic emphasis. As Gurley explained, “I’m using football as my way to get a better education to prepare me for (life) down the road.”
Still, these are football players and their season has become abbreviated. The Wildcats are 6-0, but have played just three games with upcoming games against Cedar Park Christian (Oct. 14), Olympic (Oct. 21, non-conference) and Cedarcrest (Oct. 28). At this point, no one knows if any of those games will become forfeits.
Going forward, Jensen said, the team will look within themselves.
“There are still unknowns,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen next week. What we can control is ourselves and how we prepare, and we’re going to concentrate on getting better at football.”
There is, he added, “no replacing (the game atmosphere). Our kids have lost three games now … and you’re not going to replace that.”
Tuesday’s decision by Granite Falls to forfeit was “very frustrating (and) very disappointing,” Jensen said.
He wants to see changes on the state level and on the conference level that would prohibit teams forfeiting just days before a game.
“Hopefully there are new laws written within the WIAA or within the conference that (require) some accountability to these schools that are putting these kids’ season in jeopardy,” Jensen said
It seems increasingly likely that Archbishop Murphy will not remain in the seven-team Cascade Conference, Jensen confirmed.
“We have to find a new home,” he said. “Whether that’s next year or the following year or the year after that, change will be enacted. … I think those conversations will be open and we’ll ask the WIAA to help in that.”
As for this season, the Wildcats’ goal remains unchanged, Jensen said. The team intends to win its first Class 2A football state championship. Archbishop Murphy won Class 1A titles in 2002 and 2003.
“That goal will not change, regardless of what happens in the next few weeks,” Jensen said.
Can the Wildcats win a state title after missing so many games? “We’re going to find out,” he said.