Prior to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the North Creek High School varsity football team and its booster club had raised a large amount of money for travel and activities within the state of Washington, where their program resides.
However, after not being able to play the entire 2021 season, they were presented with a unique opportunity to open their 2022 season in Alaska against the defending state champion Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School.
“At the end of the year the booster club said, ‘We have this amount of money we raised, we have to spend it, so put a wish list together,’ ” North Creek coach Torrey Myers said. “Literally two days later (East) coach (Jeff) Trotter posted on a website in Washington that they were looking for an out-of-state game so I went back to the booster club and said we can spend it all in one place and more.”
“In March coach (Torrey) came up to us and asked us seniors if we wanted to come to Alaska and we were all in,” said senior quarterback Luc Naldrett, who threw three touchdowns Saturday in his team’s 41-16 victory over East.
The team -- from Bothell, Washington, near Seattle -- had to do some additional fundraising but not much because the vast majority of the funds needed were already available.
“It was a lot logistically to get everything done,” Myers said. “I’ve never been to Alaska before. This is an experience of a lifetime and I’ve absolutely loved it here.”
The team flew in on Wednesday and went to watch the Chugiak High varsity football team defeat Palmer on Thursday night and enjoyed staying at the Birchwood Camp retreat in Chugiak instead of a hotel.
“Anyone can stay in a hotel but we wanted to have an Alaska experience,” Myers said.
They had even more outdoor activities planned but the weather prevented them from doing them all. Nevertheless, they did still enjoy some team bonding alternatives that included going to the movies to see “Top Gun: Maverick.”
When they went to watch the Mustangs beat the Patriots, Myers said the team “took over their student section.” Two days later, Chugiak returned the favor by sending its cheerleaders to support the Jaguars on Saturday in their game with East.
“That was a cool accident that happened because we showed up and cheered for them,” Myers said.
The Jaguars were so amazed by the views at the Birchwood Camp that they spent most of their time hiking around and taking in the surrounding sights.
“It’s been very beautiful everywhere we go, the views are gorgeous,” Naldrett said.
Myers said that they have a large number of student-athletes on their team who had never even been on an airplane prior to taking this trip and an even larger number who had never been to the Last Frontier, including himself.
“If we can build experiences like that, I think that is as important as us playing and winning games,” Myers said.
He had no pre-existing relationship with Trotter or the East program prior to the post he saw on the Washington Athletics Association website, although he has seen Juneau-Douglas post on the site in the past.
Next year the Thunderbirds will be making the trip down to Washington to take on the Jaguars on their home turf.
North Creek plays at the 4A level in Washington, which is the highest division in the state and their particular conference of KingCo is one of the best in the state, annually sending two to three teams to the playoffs.
“Playing a team that is as good as East prepares us for that and we also know that it is a good way to find out what we need to work on because the schedule is going to get harder and harder as we go on,” Myers said.
The program is still relatively new, having only been established for six years dating back to 2017, and last year was their best season to date.
“We finished 5-4, made the playoffs for the second year, and it was the first time we ever won a playoff game,” Myers said. “Every year we’ve gotten better and we just hope we can keep doing that.”
As for the actual game itself, the result couldn’t have gone any better for the Jaguars. They generated explosive plays on offense and came up with several timely turnovers when the Thunderbirds reached the red zone on their way to a commanding victory.
“It’s nice to get the first win out of the way,” Myers said. “You never know how the first game of year is going to look and obviously they had played a few games before us.”
He attributed some of the flags that were charged to his players early on in the game to the general “rust” that needs to be knocked off in season openers.
“Our guys played, there’s a lot to improve on but we’re pretty pleased,” Myers said.
He admitted that East was more “stout and physical and tough” than they had anticipated coming into the game but believes what changed the game in their favor was all the turnovers his defense and even special teams unit came up with.
“We knew they were going to be pretty good and quite frankly they were even better than we thought on the offensive and defensive line,” Myers said. “I felt like we would run the ball better and we didn’t run the ball as well as I thought we could’ve.
As good as the final result was for North Creek, the most memorable part of their trip to Alaska was everything but the game itself.
“For us to come up and have an experience like we had is one thing in itself, and to come out and play a really good football team and come away with a win is just icing on the cake,” Myers said.