Jason Dunnagan certainly doesn’t need any directions on how to get to football practice at Adna High School or any introductions to the football coaching staff there.
For Dunnagan, coaching and being involved with Pirate football is a “been there, done that experience.” First, he was an all-league lineman at Adna, starting as a freshman on the state championship team back in 1989. Then as an assistant coach, he was helping to call the plays and coaching with K.C. Johnson when Adna won a state championship in 2009.
“I love it,” Dunnagan said about coaching at his alma mater since 2003. “I have a love for the game. I really enjoy the chess match involved with strategizing.”
And just as the players on this year’s team that again reached the state semifinals despite having lost a boatload of seniors last year, Dunnagan’s motivation and commitment to winning haven’t dimmed.
“I’ve coached with a lot of people in the last 31 years and Jason’s as bright as they come,” Johnson said. “He’s a student of the game. He was a great player. The thing I really appreciate about him is the time and effort he puts in. He’s a great coach.”
“He doesn’t just say get that guy,” Johnson said. “He tells him how to get that guy. Everything from their first power step to their hand placement and their angles. He would have been an amazing teacher. Kids relate to him. They love him and he does a top-notch job.”
But Dunnagan’s commitment to the high school football team took a temporary break. Another obligation took precedent for a few years. That was coaching his son, Jaxon in football during elementary and middle school. Now that Jaxon is a freshman quarterback at Adna, Dunnagan is back with the high school Pirates and Johnson. “So, I’m lucky enough to get him back,” Johnson said.
Even when Dunnagan was coaching his son’s teams, he was still there under the Friday night lights, up in the booth and helping Johnson call plays during Adna’s games. Dunnagan cherishes the opportunity to coach his son. Being a lineman coach helps to separate the responsibility, but he’s still there sharing the moments.
Now, with Jaxon on the team, Dunnagan wears two hats at practice. He’s both coach and dad. Jaxon calls him “Dad” at practice. But Dunnagan puts the “son” title aside and bases his comments on performance, not bloodlines.
“I treat him like the other kids and not put him in the spotlight,” Dunnagan said. “I’m not doing it so I could have a star football player in the fourth grade. That’s the farthest thing. I just want to make it a fun time for him and his buddies so he can look back on it and see it as a positive experience.”
Carrying that father-coach role, Dunnagan appreciates the moment. “It’s definitely a luxury,” Dunnagan said. “It’s such quality time I get to spend with my son. It’s a good time.”
In retrospect, Johnson had some of those same shared moments with family before. Except the roles were reversed. Johnson’s dad, Gary Johnson was the head coach at Toledo High School during K.C.’s senior year. Then later, when K.C. became the head coach at Adna Gary became K.C.’s assistant coach for seven years from 2004 to 2011. They shared in the celebration of Adna’s 2009 state championship.
And the Dunnagan father-son relationship with sports has another chapter. Jason’s father, Gary coached him in baseball in grade school. And like Jason, Gary graduated from Adna. So did Jason’s mom, Rhonda. Although Gary didn’t play football, he played baseball his senior year, right after his family moved from California to Adna. He didn’t coach at Adna, but Rhonda has what you could call a repairing job with the football team. She sews torn jerseys.
“She’s done that as long as I’ve been coaching,” Jason said. “And she’s probably done it for the last 20 years.” Just another Dunnagan the Pirates can count on.
Over the years the Pirates have been no stranger to success. This year’s group of seniors went 37-10 in the last four years. “They’re a good group of kids,” Johnson said. “Hard workers.”
Adna’s success on the scoreboard has been a combination of talent and effort. The team’s averaged nine wins a season in the last 14 years and that is their motivator. They’re all driven to work hard and to prepare – both during the season as well as in the offseason.
“They can be proud,” Johnson said. “It’s due to people like Jason and those who help me establish this program. These kids out here know that if we’re going to play high school football, we’re all dedicated and committed. This is what we do.”
It’s not just a Friday night responsibility for the team and coaches. It’s a year-round pledge that applies both on and off the field. That commitment is to not just building a better team. It was also to build a better stadium. Johnson, Dunnagan and Dunnagan’s younger brother Aaron, plus other volunteers from the community built the Pirate’s stadium, complete with new bleachers and grass field perfectly framing Mount Rainier.
“We built that stadium and field with volunteer manpower,” said Jason, who is a software tech for the Department of Revenue. “Along with the success of this team, that stadium is going to be there hopefully after I’m gone. It’s a pretty cool thing.”
Jason understands that to be a coach, it takes more than an understanding of X’s and O’s and the offensive and defensive schemes. It also takes an understanding wife like Jason’s spouse Rachel. “My wife, I couldn’t do this without her support,” Jason said. “Coaching is a big time commitment and it couldn’t happen without a supportive spouse.” Like Jason, Rachel is an Adna graduate who was also involved in sports. She played basketball, softball and was a cheerleader.
While Jason appreciates his wife’s support, they both know football also happens out of the fall season and Friday nights. There are workouts in the spring and then again later in the summer. During football season, Sundays are strategy days and time for coaches to review the games and scout the upcoming opponent.
It’s a never give up commitment. “I love it,” Jason said.