Seton Catholic’s pitch for athletes from other sports to play football scores big

Some Seton Catholic baseball players were thinking about specializing, just playing baseball this school year. Instead, they were convinced to play football, too, and now the small-school Cougars are in the state semifinals. Dalton Woods, Teddy Wieczorek, and Sawyer Clifton are on the left of this picture. On the right, it’s Garrett Nebels (in San Diego shirt), with Max Ackerman behind him. And Ryker Ruelas at the back right, with Kolten Gesser in the front right. Photo by Paul Valencia
Some Seton Catholic baseball players were thinking about specializing, just playing baseball this school year. Instead, they were convinced to play football, too, and now the small-school Cougars are in the state semifinals. Dalton Woods, Teddy Wieczorek, and Sawyer Clifton are on the left of this picture. On the right, it’s Garrett Nebels (in San Diego shirt), with Max Ackerman behind him. And Ryker Ruelas at the back right, with Kolten Gesser in the front right. Photo by Paul Valencia

A small school school needs multisport athlete in order to succeed, and Seton Catholic football is going to the state semifinals

Paul Valencia
ClarkCountyToday.com

The numbers don’t seem to add up for the Seton Catholic football team.. 

Well, until you dig deeper than just the numbers.

The Seton Catholic Cougars are a 12-seed that has reached the final four in Class 1A football.  

The Cougars are one of the smallest Class 1A schools in the state, a program with Class 2B numbers opting up to play against larger schools.

Oh, and they only have one senior on the semifinal football team.

Numbers can be deceiving.

Because when a number of athletes join forces, play multiple sports to represent their school and community, well, magic can happen.

For example, the Seton Catholic baseball team has had an incredible influence on the Seton Catholic football program.

Some baseball players initially wanted to specialize, focusing just on the diamond. School baseball in the spring. Club baseball the rest of the year. 

Well, until the topic of football came up, the topic of Seton Catholic football.

“Have fun in high school,” quarterback Kolten Gesser reasoned. 

Seton Catholic quarterback Kolten Gesser, also a baseball standout, convinced many of his baseball teammates to join him on the football team. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea
Seton Catholic quarterback Kolten Gesser, also a baseball standout, convinced many of his baseball teammates to join him on the football team. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea

That was his “pitch” to his baseball teammates who were on the fence about playing football for the Cougars this season.

“It’s about having fun in high school, being a kid, and being an athlete,” Gesser said. “If you start only doing baseball at this age, you’re going to start to get really sick of it. You want kids to still have fun.”

Specializing in one sport too early could make that sport feel like it’s a job, he added.

His baseball teammates got the message.

And now, many of those Seton Catholic baseball-players-turned-football-players are getting ready to travel to Royal City on Saturday to take on top-seed Royal in the Class 1A semifinals. Kickoff is 4 p.m.

“It’s the best decision I’ve made,” Teddy Wieczorek said of playing football this year. “It’s given me a new perspective on team sports.”

Teddy Wieczorek scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday then had a huge play on special teams, helping Seton Catholic rally to a win in the state quarterfinals. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea
Teddy Wieczorek scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday then had a huge play on special teams, helping Seton Catholic rally to a win in the state quarterfinals. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea

It was like a domino effect.

Wieczorek was in. Who was next?

“I was talked into by Kolten and Teddy,” kicker Dalton Woods said. “I was in the same boat as Teddy. I was just going to focus on baseball.” 

Then he heard the words: We need someone to kick the ball. 

“I made the decision. Glad I did,” Woods said.

Wieczorek and Woods combined for one of the biggest plays of the night in the quarterfinal win over Cashmere. Seton trailed by 14 midway through the fourth quarter. The Cougars scored a touchdown, and then Woods delivered a perfect “pooch” kickoff, right to Wieczorek down field — beyond 10 yards so it was a live ball — and Wieczorek caught the ball. Second later, Seton Catholic was in the end zone again, tying the contest in about 10 game seconds. Cashmere never recovered, and Seton got the go-ahead score for a 42-35 victory.

Wieczorek noted the great kick from Woods, but also pointed out that every player on the team contributed Saturday. 

“If one person doesn’t do his job, the game’s over,” he said.

True, but there are so many jobs to do in football. That means a team needs depth, it needs a number of standout athletes committed to getting the job done. Small school football programs, in particular, need those athletes, even athletes who prefer other sports in other seasons.

Max Ackerman said he initially had second thoughts about football this season. But once he decided to play football, he also made a commitment to himself, and his team. If he were to play, he had to be 100 percent focused on football during football season.

“Buying into it has made it a more fun experience,” Ackerman said. “It’s a contagious effect, too. Once you start having success, everyone else around you does, too.”

Sawyer Clifton was injured playing football earlier in his career. He was hesitant to return to the gridiron this season. Three days before football started, though, he made the call. He was in, too.

Ryker Ruelas said his club baseball coaches weren’t thrilled with the idea of him playing football. And, he said, his mother was not happy, either. He has no regrets about playing football, but he acknowledged his mom is still scared of the game.

Ryker Ruelas is one of many Seton Catholic baseball players who opted to play football, too, and has helped the Cougars reach the state semifinals. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea
Ryker Ruelas is one of many Seton Catholic baseball players who opted to play football, too, and has helped the Cougars reach the state semifinals. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea

Another baseball player, Garrett Nebels, said he did not have to be convinced. Football is an extension of the baseball team, a connection years in the making from youth sports to high school.

Garrett Nebels of Seton Catholic celebrates a big play Saturday during the Cougars’ win in the state quarterfinals. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea
Garrett Nebels of Seton Catholic celebrates a big play Saturday during the Cougars’ win in the state quarterfinals. Photo courtesy Aim Sportography by Linnea

Gesser noted there are basketball players and track and field athletes on the football team, too.

“All these different sports bring us a bigger bond as a football team,” Gesser said. “It’s all year round. We’re always together, and that’s helped build this brotherhood.”

For many of these Cougars, baseball remains their No. 1 sport, either in terms of a future beyond high school or simply they enjoy baseball more. 

But they also acknowledge there is something special about high school football.

“There’s nothing that can ever quite match Friday night lights,” Ackerman said. “You’re playing under the lights, in front of your school, and everyone goes to watch. The experience that happens there, a sensation you can’t really describe, it’s different than any other sport.”

This year’s football team also gets to say it made history. Seton Catholic already has set the record for most wins in a season. The Cougars are 11-1 heading into the semifinals. The Cougars also hosted a home postseason game for the first time, and then won two state playoff games to reach Thanksgiving week. The program had never won a postseason game before this season.
“This school is very special,” Gesser said. “Here, our academics are very good. All of the students are amazing, too. There aren’t any bad eggs around here. In sports, we have amazing sportsmanship.”

The Cougars also have a higher calling than grades and victories on the athletic field.

“We represent Seton, but our goal is to worship God,” Wieczorek said.

This week, they are representing all of Clark County. Seton Catholic is the lone football team from the region still playing football.

“We don’t really think about that,” Gesser said. “We’re not thinking about big-picture stuff until after the season, I guess.”

The season will conclude Saturday or after the first weekend in December at the state championship game. Then these Cougars can consider all that they have accomplished. 

And then many of them will try to do the same thing on the baseball field come springtime, or on the basketball court in the winter, or on the track in the spring.

Multi-sport athletes make for some special moments at Seton Catholic. 


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