Dad, this one’s for you

Kamiak’s Jones leads Knights to Class 4A semifinals for first time in school’s history


Herald Writer

MUKILTEO — Looking at the walls of Ryan Jones’ room is like looking into his mind.

The Kamiak quarterback has his goals and notes of inspiration in places where most high school seniors display posters of hip-hop stars and fast cars.

‘The only time to be a follower is when you follow your dreams.’

‘This is not a game, this is life.’

‘Best quarterback in the league.’


‘Throw for 1,500 yards.’

‘Win the state playoffs.’

It is the words of his father, however, that Jones will always follow.

Tucked inside a book is a note from Ryan’s dad, Mike, who lost a battle with cancer in the summer of 1991, when Ryan was 8. It is these words, written five days before his father died, that drive him to lift weights and run nearly every day of the year.

"I’m proud of you. You work so hard at your school work and your sports. You’ll go anywhere you want to go if you set your mind to it and practice. Remember I will always love you, and be with you no matter what. I will always be watching from wherever I am. Love Always, Dad."

Jones believes his father has been with him this season, in which he’s led Kamiak to the first football semifinal in school history. He believes that somehow his father has helped him achieve, or be on the verge of reaching, every goal he has set. Jones has thrown for more than 1,500 yards. He was recently honored by the Western Conference 4A as the best quarterback in the league. Two more victories, including one Saturday against Bethel in the Tacoma Dome, and the Knights will win the state playoffs.

"Every game, I look up and say, ‘Dad, this one’s for you,’" Jones said. "I believe he’s watching me, somehow. I think about him almost every day."

Losing one who is so close inevitably changes surrounding lives. Some find a way to move on. Some never recover. Others use unfortunate circumstances as an excuse for making poor decisions in life.

The generosity of a University of Washington quarterback helped Jones get through the tough times. Tom Nakane filled some of the void. Jones credits the man he considers a brother for much of his success on the field as well as his growth as a person.

Nakane, who was a backup for the Huskies from 1988-92, visited the Edmonds Boys and Girls Club in 1992 with several teammates. Nakane and Jones hit it off and have been friends ever since. Nakane, who earned Semi-Pro All-American honors while playing for the Snohomish County Vikings in 1998 and ‘99, has been a regular at Kamiak games, missing only two this season to attend his sister’s wedding overseas.

Ryan’s mother, Sherry Thompson, credits Nakane for helping her boy develop into a son mothers dream about. Jones says his step-father, George Thompson, whom his mother married in 1994, has also been a solid role model.

"I never have to worry about where he is, because he’s here," Sherry Thompson said. "He’s not out running around on Friday nights. He’s here studying, or he brings his friends over. He’s just a great kid."

Nakane knew he had a future quarterback on his hands right away. When the inseparable pair went to Funtasia, an amusement center in Edmonds, they were drawn to a game that requires one to throw a football through a small opening.

Jones whipped Nakane, and he still does.

"He’s always had a really strong love for football," said Nakane, who put off a move to California for a year so he could watch Jones play as a senior. "We’ve always worked on things together, so it’s been a natural fit."

Not much was expected of Jones this season, or for his team for that matter. Kamiak went to the quarterfinals in 1999, but much of that team graduated, including quarterback Ryan Kanekeberg, who is currently impressing his coaches at Oregon State.

What people didn’t know, was that Jones has been preparing for his walk out of the shadows since the death of his father. Some folks knew there was another 6-foot-4 guy named Ryan. But they didn’t know about all the daily workouts. They didn’t know he could run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, which is as fast as many college running backs. No, Jones doesn’t break the hands off his receivers when he throws like the strong-armed Kanekeberg, but the accuracy shown at Funtasia has translated to the field.

"He’s got tremendous character for a young man," Kamiak coach Dan Mack said. "He has a real solid work ethic. You put those two together, and you’ve got something. He would have started at a number of other schools in our conference as a junior."

Jones admits that he thought about going elsewhere for the chance to play. He could have transferred, but deep down he knew he was a Knight. The magical season Kamiak has enjoyed has made the long wait worthwhile.

"I thought about it, but I love Kamiak," said Jones, who has drawn interest from several colleges, including Nevada-Reno, Portland State and Idaho State. "I figured the one year could be a good year."

That it has. A victory over Bethel on Saturday would put the Knights in position for Jones’ ultimate goal.

‘Win the state playoffs.’

After Saturday’s game, win or lose, Jones will lift his head toward the sky. He’ll be looking to meet the invisible gaze of his father’s eyes through the wooden roof of the Tacoma Dome. Smiles and tears may overlap, and in his heart, he’ll know he’s made Dad proud.

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