High school football: A lesson in leadership at La Center

The La Center Wildcats bring their energy to the field prior to their Friday night home game against Woodland. Photo by Mike Schultz
The La Center Wildcats bring their energy to the field prior to their Friday night home game against Woodland. Photo by Mike Schultz

Three-sport athlete Garrett Maunu’s character is even more impressive than his athletic ability

Paul Valencia
ClarkCountyToday.com

LA CENTER — It only took a second or two for Garrett Maunu to move on to his next mission, once the La Center Wildcats finished shaking hands with the Woodland Beavers after their Friday night football game.

Maunu ran past his coaches who were waiting to conduct a brief post-game meeting on the field, and Maunu insisted that his teammates follow his lead.

Garrett Maunu is now 2-0 as the starting quarterback of the La Center Wildcats. Photo by Mike Schultz
Garrett Maunu is now 2-0 as the starting quarterback of the La Center Wildcats. Photo by Mike Schultz

He spotted the bell off in the distance, some 50 yards away, and up a grassy hill just off to the side of the football field.

“The bell is a tradition,” Maunu said. “The bell is to signal to everyone that we won the game, and we worked hard for that moment.”
La Center improved to 2-0 with a 24-8 victory over the Beavers in the first home game of the year for the Wildcats.

Which meant the first home game that Maunu, a senior, played for the Wildcats as the starting quarterback.

“It has been my dream to play varsity quarterback. I’m glad I got the chance. My senior year, I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Maunu said. “I want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for this. I’ve been praying about it, and I got the opportunity for this moment. I’m going to give it my best.”

La Center quarterback Garrett Maunu is not big, coach John Lambert said, but he has a lot of big teammates who love and admire him. Photo by Mike Schultz
La Center quarterback Garrett Maunu is not big, coach John Lambert said, but he has a lot of big teammates who love and admire him. Photo by Mike Schultz

A year ago, Maunu lost out in a battle for starting quarterback at La Center. He was a receiver instead. Maunu was disappointed. But not defeated.

“It was tough, but I can’t be selfish,” Maunu said. “I told all my buddies … ‘We’re a team.’”

He just worked on becoming a better receiver, and being ready to play quarterback, if needed.

A number of things changed in the last 12 months at La Center, and the Wildcats once again were in search of a starting quarterback.

The search did not last long.

La Center coach John Lambert knew he already had a starting quarterback on the team.

Team player and team leader Garrett Maunu was still on the roster, after all.

“I’ve been playing quarterback since the third grade, and it’s my senior year, and I’ve got this opportunity. I just gave it my all, and I was ready for this moment,” Maunu said. “I’ve been preparing for years.”

La Center’s Garrett Maunu shakes hands with the Woodland Beavers before their game Friday night. Maunu is one of four seniors on La Center’s team that has been with the program since they started in high school. Photo by Mike Schultz
La Center’s Garrett Maunu shakes hands with the Woodland Beavers before their game Friday night. Maunu is one of four seniors on La Center’s team that has been with the program since they started in high school. Photo by Mike Schultz

At La Center, all the seniors have to be leaders. After all, there are only four of them who have been with the program since the beginning of high school — Maunu, Jalen Ward, Austin Nixon, and Ryan Kawalek. (La Center does have a senior foreign exchange student this year, as well.)

“Me, Austin, Jalen, and Ryan, we started working out in the eighth grade, coming up to the high school every day to work out,” Maunu said. “We dreamed of this moment, to play together. It’s unbelievable.”

La Center’s Jalen Ward rushed for two touchdowns Friday in a win over Woodland. Photo by Mike Schultz
La Center’s Jalen Ward rushed for two touchdowns Friday in a win over Woodland. Photo by Mike Schultz

Only two weeks in, but so far, so good. Not great, though. Not yet. Maunu noted that there were a lot of mistakes against Woodland. The team overcame those miscues to get the victory. The Wildcats know they will need to improve in order to reach their goals.

“We want to go on a run,” Maunu said. “Us four seniors, we want to go on a run, so we’re trying to lead this team. We know the sky’s the limit.”

Austin Nixon, one of four senior leaders for La Center, stays in bounds to pick up a few more yards against Woodland on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz
Austin Nixon, one of four senior leaders for La Center, stays in bounds to pick up a few more yards against Woodland on Friday. Photo by Mike Schultz

Lambert, who has been the head coach at La Center since before the turn of the century, has seen a number of leaders in his program. Lambert appreciates all that Maunu endured last year, how Maunu conducted himself during a difficult time.  

Maunu brings stability to the offense, Lambert said. 

“He knows everything. He understands the offense, inside and out. People trust him,” Lambert said. “He throws a very accurate ball. He’s elusive, even though he’s not big. He was the point guard on the basketball team last year. He’s the shortstop/pitcher on the baseball team. Those guys don’t grow on trees.”

That’s just a description of Maunu’s athletic abilities and his football IQ.

There is so much more to Maunu, the coach said.

“He has the respect of his teammates,” Lambert said. “The leadership that he brings, the toughness that he brings. He is not that big, but he’s got all these big dudes around him who love him to death. It makes you feel good to have a leader you can trust, is well liked, and is tough as nails.”

Maunu’s accurate passes helped keep several drives alive Friday night, including fourth-down conversions on La Center’s opening scoring drive. 

Jalen Ward would end up with two touchdown runs, and Isaac Chromey had another. Maunu threw for two 2-point conversions.

The Beavers had a bend-but-not-break defense going for most of this game, too, stopping La Center in the red zone twice to keep the score close. The Beavers then tied the game midway through the third quarter.

Elijah Andersen of Woodland lined up as a receiver, a running back, and quarterback at times for the Beavers on Friday night. Photo by Mike Schultz
Elijah Andersen of Woodland lined up as a receiver, a running back, and quarterback at times for the Beavers on Friday night. Photo by Mike Schultz

La Center responded with a touchdown drive to retake the lead, then its defense did the rest. Nixon, one of those four senior leaders, had a huge hit on a fourth-down play to end one late Woodland drive.

When the game was over Friday night, there was a bell that needed to ring out for all to hear:
La Center earned a home victory.

It was a senior quarterback who led the Wildcats to that bell, enjoying every second of the celebration. 

A year ago, Garrett Maunu understood that if he remained committed to the team, his moment would arrive.


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