Save for a couple snaps under center during his junior high school playing days, Dawson Stanley never considered himself a quarterback. He had always been a running back, and one who never shied away from contact.
There was a quarterback in the Stanley family, however: Wyatt Stanley, Dawson’s older brother, who was a four-year starter for Napavine High School, leading the Tigers to three consecutive Class 2B state title game appearances.
In his final high school game, Wyatt led Napavine to the 2016 state championship, solidifying his legacy as one of the program’s all-time greats.
When Wyatt graduated, there were plenty of questions centering on what would become of the quarterback position during the 2017 season – first and foremost, who could fill such large shoes?
The answer turned out to be Dawson, who slid seamlessly into the role of starting quarterback following his brother’s departure as he guided the Tigers back to the state semifinals for a fourth straight year, earning Central 2B League Mountain Division offensive most valuable player honors along the way.
Since Head Coach Josh Fay took over the program in 2007, he has tallied a record of 114-24. In all but seven of those victories he had at least one member of the Stanley family playing under him. His lone season without a Stanley came in 2012, a year after brother No. 2, Tucker Stanley, had graduated and a year before Wyatt’s arrival.
Four brothers, beginning with Reece Stanley in 2007, have played for Fay over the last 12 seasons.
Dawson will end that incredible run this year, which has to be music to the ears of opposing teams who are most likely tired of seeing someone with the name Stanley on the back of their jersey waltz into the end zone when they play Napavine – a scenario which has occurred more than a few times over the last decade.
That’s the good news. The bad news for those teams?
A year after accounting for nearly 3,000 yards of offense and 40 touchdowns, Dawson, who admittedly was still learning the quarterback position as a junior, is considerably better than he was last season.
“The best way I have described him is last year we had an athlete playing quarterback,” said Fay, who has won 10 or more games in seven out of the last eight seasons. “This year we have an athletic quarterback.”
Despite the lack of experience, Dawson looked like a natural signal caller in 2017, helping the Tigers to an 11-2 record after passing for 1,665 yards and 26 TDs. Expect those numbers to increase this year.
“He has definitely matured as a quarterback,” Fay said. “He’s become a passer. He’s pretty good on his progressions now and he’s throwing a better ball. Last year we just let him run.”
Which is something Dawson excelled at as he rushed for 1,076 yards and 13 touchdowns during his junior campaign.
“I tried to get into the weight room. I wanted to get bigger and stronger this year. I just wanted to be better at the [quarterback] position,” Dawson said.
While his throws will look sharper and more accurate, don’t expect him to change up his running style too much.
“I grew up playing running back,” Dawson said. “So I’m always going to have that kind of mindset when I run.”
You can credit being the youngest of four brothers for such an outlook.
“There may be some old school brotherly love going on, but there’s a lot of encouragement. I’ve got three brothers too. So I can relate a little,” Fay said. “All four of them push each other and hold each other accountable. You can’t slack off in that family. There’s definitely a strong bond with those guys. They take care of each other.”
The Tigers saw their season come to an end in the state semifinals last year, losing to eventual state champion Kalama, 20-13. The Chinooks were the only team to defeat Napavine last year as Kalama also won a 14-8 overtime thriller during the regular season.
The Tigers won’t have to wait very long for their rematch with Kalama this year as they will play the Chinooks on the road in week No. 2.
Napavine will play one of seven teams that advanced to the postseason in 2017 during the regular season this year.
The Tigers will open against last year’s state runner-up, Liberty of Spangle. Napavine’s schedule also includes games against 2017 state qualifying teams Adna, Rainier and Toledo and against Onalaska and Wahkiakum, two teams which advanced to district postseason games.
“We were so senior heavy two years ago. So not many people thought we were going to do as well as we did last year,” Dawson said. “This year is pretty similar to last year. We have a lot of guys who just haven’t got their chance yet and it’s cool to see them step up. We’re embracing playing that role of underdog again and surprising everyone. I’m just looking forward to growing up with these guys watching the team mature as the season goes on.”