The football team has won three in a row, and a new beginning for senior Jacob DeFrates, who moved to Clark County from California, has been a life-changer
BATTLE GROUND — Jacob DeFrates said he knew “absolutely nothing” about Battle Ground’s football program when he first arrived in the Northwest last year.
He had no idea that the program won only two games last season, and that those wins came after 18 consecutive losses dating back to 2019.
All he knew is how his new teammates, his new school, his new town welcomed him.
He needed this fresh start, he said. More than anyone could have imagined.
In return, he wanted to thank Battle Ground, by giving everything he had for the Tigers.
Today, the Battle Ground Tigers are 3-0 for only the third time this century. And DeFrates is one of the big reasons why the Tigers have found success.
Heck, he did not even play Friday night when the Tigers beat district-rival Prairie 42-7. An injured knee kept him out of action.
But there he was on the sideline, cheering on his teammates, coaching his teammates.
“I needed something new,” DeFrates said about moving from Contra Costa County, California to Clark County, Washington. “It’s different. It’s quite a shock to the system. It was a good shock. It was something I needed. These guys surrounded me, and they made me one of their own.”
DeFrates moved in with his grandparents in Battle Ground after a series of misfortunes in California. He had changed schools more than once, and issues in California had put DeFrates in a fragile state of mind.
“I was pretty depressed during that time in my life,” DeFrates said.
He moved to Battle Ground last December, a month or so after Battle Ground’s football season ended. But then he moved again to Sacramento, only to return to Battle Ground a couple months later.
He needed Battle Ground for stability.
“These guys, they just surrounded me,” DeFrates said of his new teammates. “They became my family.”
DeFrates showed his appreciation by becoming their leader.
“I’ve never seen one kid change the attitude of the whole school. It started with the football team, and it just permeated,” said Dave Woodmark, an assistant coach with Battle Ground this year, but who has coached football for decades in Southwest Washington.
Mike Woodward, Battle Ground’s head coach, agreed with that assessment.
“He just came in with this humongous smile and just lit the room up,” Woodward said of the 6-foot, 2-inch DeFrates. “Just a crazy, phenomenal good kid that everybody just loves and rallies around. Usually new kids are bashful or a little hesitant, but he just dove right in. He’s just got this energy. It’s incredible.”
In the weight room. In spring drills. At team camp. There was DeFrates.
He even created a chant this summer that the team now uses before every game. “Stand tall” and “We won’t fall” are in the chant that gets loud, then quiet, and ends with a huge roar.
DeFrates is a senior, a defensive end, and a left guard at Battle Ground. He also just might become a motivational speaker.
“I’ve never been a part of something special before,” DeFrates said. “These guys play as a team, for one another. They play because they love the sport of football. They play as a family to break through the shell of negativity that surrounded them before. They reach to touch greatness. Their hand is on it. They can taste it, and they want more.”
On Friday, his teammates avenged last year’s loss to Prairie. In 2022, the Falcons had no trouble with the Tigers. This year, it was all Battle Ground, all night long.
Jacob Champine rushed for three touchdowns. Jordan Young and Artem Bahnyuk also scored rushing TDs for the Tigers. Ethan Adams found Saveliy Tkachenko on a short touchdown pass.
The Battle Ground defense held the Falcons to just one score.
“I’m so happy for our kids,” Woodward said, telling the story about how many Tigers are now lifting weights on game days, emulating what they are seeing from some college programs.
“They’re great kids. These kids just want to work and earn it. They want to earn their excellence,” Woodward said. “They’re just a fun, fun group to coach.”
On Friday night, the Tigers had an extra coach. DeFrates wore his No. 56 jersey but was unable to play. He expects to miss next week’s game, as well, but he believes he will be back on the field by Week 5. That’s when he can return to action as De Freight Train.
“I run people over. That’s my job,” DeFrates said.
Until then, he will continue to lead in other ways. Earlier this week after practice, he was working with a teammate who was going to take his place in the lineup. And on the sideline Friday night against Prairie, DeFrates was a hype machine for the guys on the field.
From DeFrates’ perspective, he owes all of this effort to his teammates.
“It’s better than good. It’s great,” he said of his new home. “Everyone here is so welcoming, so nice. If you’re nice to someone, 95 percent of the time, they’re going to match your energy and be extremely kind back. It’s a nice thing to see. There is so much love.”
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