It was perfectly fitting that near the end of Ty Poole’s final high school football game he returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Fitting, because that’s exactly what he did in his first game as a freshman.
And, even with so much more on his gridiron resume, those breakaway kickoff returns and sprints to the end zone — seven in all for his career — were his trademark at Kittitas.
“I still think my favorite memory was returning one 100 yards against La Salle on our home field when I was a freshman,” Poole said. “That was the first chance I had in the game and I remember running like crazy, scared somebody would catch me.”
Poole’s hard-running knack for breaching the goal line, which he did 49 times for the Coyotes, is a big reason why he will get one final opportunity to wear his Kittitas helmet in today’s 19th annual Earl Barden Classic at East Valley.
His special teams wizardry aside, the 6-foot, 185-pound Poole was a Class 2B first-team All-State running back whose 12.8-yard average per carry earned him offensive player of the year honors in the Central Washington League. Those type of numbers made him stand out enough, but wearing No. 88 in the backfield always added a bit of curiosity to his Friday nights.
“When I was a freshman the coaches expected me to be a quarterback, so for the preseason maroon-white game they gave me No. 3,” he explained. “But it was a couple sizes too small and after a while my arms were numb. So I ran to the lockerroom and all we had was 88. They asked me later if I wanted to change to more of a running back number but I loved it. I wanted to keep it.”
Why not? Especially when the youngster returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown in the first game of the 2009 season.
His jersey number and talent are unusual, but there’s more.
Through the state’s Running Start program, Poole has already earned 58 college credits. He spent his entire junior academic year taking classes at Central Washington University, then split time between CWU and Kittitas as a senior. During a senior project he had a job shadow with a local prosecutor, sparking an interest in law. He’ll pursue that at Aurora University, an NCAA Division III college in Illinois.
At Aurora, Poole will not only play football but also continue with a young but quickly emerging track career. After two years playing baseball in the spring, he switched to track and discovered he could jump. Last month he placed second in the 2B state long jump, leaping beyond 21 feet, and he helped Kittitas earn medals in the 4x100 and 4x400.
“With baseball, honestly, I just couldn’t hit,” he said. “So I thought I’d do track and that was more fun than I expected. The long jump is pretty technical and for most of the season I was around 20 feet. Then everything clicked at district and state. I think I could improve a lot in college.”
With his variety of athletic skills — he was also an All-State defensive back — Poole could appear anywhere on the field today. But deep on kickoffs would be fitting. The last touchdown he scored was an 80-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter that drew Kittitas into a 14-14 tie with Reardan in the state playoffs.
Reardan scored late to pull out the win, but Poole’s TD was historic. He finished with seven in his career — two coming in the postseason — and that moved him into second on the state’s all-time list. Interlake’s Jordan Todd, the West’s offensive MVP in last year’s Barden Classic who now plays at CWU, set the state record with eight touchdowns on kickoff returns.
“It’s an exciting, thrilling play when you break one,” he said. “There are running plays and some catches I’ll probably remember for a long time, but the kickoff returns were special.”
GAME NOTES: Today’s senior all-star game starts at 1 p.m. at East Valley’s Earl Barden Field. ... The East roster is set with 34 players, six of whom are from area schools. The West roster has 32 players. ... Last year’s game was the first to go into overtime, the West winning 34-28. ... All tickets are $6.