The Federal Way Hawks have a reputation to uphold.
The players, comprised of 11- and 12-year-olds who compete in the Greater Puget Sound Youth Football League, have played together since they were in first grade.
As outgoing fifth-graders, the Hawks have compiled a career record of 57-0, outscoring opponents 374-28, and have won four championships in a five-year run. The success has garnered attention from Select football programs as far east as Texas. One of them was the storied Inland Empire Ducks of Corona, California. After working with the Ducks for over a year, Federal Way, which is not a Select program, will travel to California and face Inland Empire Aug. 12. The Hawks will also face the West Coast Dolphins of Lynwood, California on Aug. 13.
While the games are an exhibition for Federal Way, the Ducks are in the heart of their season as they play year round. After repeatedly beating the same local power-house programs the last few years, however, the Hawks are looking forward to a new challenge.
“This is going to be an awesome experience,” head coach Blaze Barber said. “We’re not really known for football up here, but to be able to put 30 kids on an airplane, have them stay in a hotel room and give them the college or NFL-type experience, they’re so pumped for this.”
The Hawks’ opportunity indirectly came about because of running back and linebacker Troy Vaigaia
Vagaia was chosen to represent the Hawks in the 2016 All-American game in California. The head coach of that team was Inland Empire coach Keefe Pierson.
Knowing full well with whom he was speaking, Vagaia couldn’t help but brag about the Federal Way program.
“Troy actually went down there and played really, really well,” Barber said. “[Pierson] asked him where he was from. Troy told him he was from Federal Way and was bragging that this team over the last five years is 57-0, and have won four championships.”
Pierson was intrigued.
After the conversation, Pierson spoke with Vagaia’s dad, Shane Vagaia. Through Shane Vagaia, Pierson contacted Barber.
The two spoke over the course of the last year in an attempt to schedule a game, but both sides struggled to set a game date.
Just as Barber was prepared to pull out of the game all together, the two sides agreed on August 2017.
“I think we realized that this was such a huge opportunity for these kids,” Barber said. “It was our job as the coaches to do everything we could to make it happen.”
The challenge for Federal Way now is actually making sure it can financially arrive in California on its scheduled date of Aug. 10.
The Hawks have kicked their fundraising efforts into high gear, starting with a gofundme.com account.
The players, who will officially begin training as sixth-graders on July 5, will spend their summer around the city attempting to raise the goal amount of $5,000.
The Hawks have held weekend car washes outside of the Umpqua Bank on South 320th Street for weeks and will continue through the month of July.
Federal Way is also working with Secoma Lanes to raise money through bowling events, and the Hawks will host an Applebees breakfast event on July 10.
“This is an exciting time for them,” Barber said. “You have to remember, the pressure is on the Ducks. This game against us counts as a part of their regular season, but this is bigger than a regular season game for us.
“We’ve beat everybody in this area, so to get to play a team like the I.E. Ducks, who have YouTube highlights and national recognition, is quite an opportunity. To line up against them in August will be great for my guys.”
Barber said he isn’t concerned nerves and pressure will overcome his team. The Hawks have a reputation and a perfect record to maintain.
“We’re going after yet another state title again this year,” Barber said. “Traveling to face a team as well known as the I.E. Ducks is huge, but we have a reputation of our own up here. If we go down there and play our brand of football, and do it well, we can win.”