Sumner High football coach Keith Ross built up a strong relationship with star linebacker Austin Striplin during their four-year run together.
After Sumner lost in the Class 2A state quarterfinals, Striplin’s final game as a Sumner Spartan, that coach/player relationship came to an end.
But the two got one last chance to compete on the football field together late last month when they participated in the Class 2A all-state football game in Yakima.
The contest, an annual tradition in Washington, features high school all-state players from both sides of the state facing off against each other.
Ross was the defensive coordinator for the West team, and Striplin played offensive tackle and linebacker.
Not even a 27-12 loss to the East in the game on June 21 at East Valley High School could put a damper on the experience of a lifetime for Ross and Striplin. Players and coaches arrived in Yakima on June 17 and had four days of practice leading up to the game. The teams and coaching staffs also stayed at Yakima Valley Community College throughout the week. Ross said it was an honor coaching Striplin one last time. Striplin, a four-year starter at Sumner, will play football at Pacific Lutheran University this fall.
“It was really neat to coach him again for one more week and one more game,” Ross said. “As a coach, you always want to build relationships that last a lifetime. He is a special kid and we are really close. It was a privilege to work with him these past four years. I know there is going to be some big Sumner crowds at PLU football games over the next four years to watch him play.”
Ross said the caliber of players on the team, as well as their character both on and off the field, impressed him.
“We had 33 players on our team and 29 of them were team captains. There were also five ASB presidents (among the group),” the coach said. “It was a special group of very talented kids. Everyone there was good and they knew it, but everybody left their egos at home. It was a great week.”
The nightly dinner sessions with the other coaches in attendance is also something Ross will never forget.
“Every night at dinner you could see guys writing plays down on their napkins and discussing different types of offenses and defenses,” Ross said. “There were coaches there in the (state’s) Hall of Fame. It was quite the collection of coaches, and everyone got to exchange ideas and draw up plays every night.”