The unexpected quest for perfection comes to a head tonight with the spotlight squarely on the Thunder Mountain football seniors.
The Falcons have seen unprecedented success with a 7-0 start in the program's second year of existence, led by a senior class that will leave behind a winning tradition and what its players hope will be a championship legacy for future Thunder Mountain football teams to aspire to match.
A special night generally reserved for celebrating the senior class now takes on a whole new meaning with regular season perfection and a special place in school history on the line against St. Bernard's, a 2-0 team out of California, at 8 p.m. at TMHS.
And the Falcons senior class is grateful to be a part of it.
"The season has meant a lot. We go and we travel like a family. We all help each other out. It's just a family thing. There's no drama," said senior receiver Donald Stokes. "We're a family and if anybody's in trouble, somebody steps up to help them.
"We're all talking about going to state and winning," he continued. "We've dreamed about it. We all sat down and said we need to step our game up, come in as a team and work as a team, learn what we have to do and win state."
Stokes said even though he was the new kid in town after moving to Juneau from San Diego in March, he feels like he's been welcomed into the family atmosphere coach Bill Byouer promotes.
"All the seniors here, we're just helping the younger kids. When we see the freshmen, we help them and everybody comes to us. I have friend who's a freshman and everyone thinks he's my little brother," he said. "He looks up to me and the seniors because we help everybody. Everybody's pretty close. We chill and drive around, do what we do. There's no drama between us and we all hang out."
Fellow senior Ty McMichael also joined the team this season after not playing football his first three years of high school. McMichael said being a senior is about keeping focus.
"It's definitely different from when you're littler. As a senior on the team, a lot of people actually do look up to you and it's not just in the games," he said. "Mostly, being a senior is about keeping focus in practice because during game time, the intensity level is high enough. The only time you really have to show your seniority is if somebody makes a bad play and you need to help them up.
"But practice is where your leadership comes out because you need to run the plays and get them right because on nice days like (Tuesday), it's easy to get lackadaisical."
McMichael said he always knew this year's team was going to be good, but to be undefeated after seven games is something even he didn't envision. And the Falcons have done it by sacrificing personal glories for the betterment of the team, he said.
"We have a lot of talent. Most of our varsity is seniors and we are very talented," he said. "We have Cameron (Fronimos) running the ball and he's doing an amazing job this year. Donald, at receiver, he's doing great. A lot of people are doing their jobs and this group of seniors has really come together. It's impressive and it's definitely the most talented team I've been on.
"I expected this team to do well this year, but I had no idea how we were going to develop," he continued. "You can have a team of superstars and go 3-5 because it's really about people sacrificing."
McMichael, a member of the crowded Thunder Mountain backfield, applauded his teammates' unselfishness.
"We have seven people on this team that can run the ball. We're stacked at running back, but some people have to take hits and be on the line or different positions and really, they don't care," he said. "It's better for the team and that's really what this team is about: unselfishness. We have a lot of players that are willing to sacrifice superstar positions and huge stats. Donald's one of the best blockers we have and sometimes he doesn't catch a pass, but you'll see him so excited after the game because he's talking about the blocks he made.
"It's really cool to be on a team with people who are willing to give up that position and the huge stats to have the wins," he continued. "Honestly, it's a surprise for us to be 7-0 in the second season and maybe 8-0, but I would be disappointed if this team doesn't win state."
Teams often bond for the playoffs with a show of solidarity. Stokes said the baby-faced Falcons are planning a shaving strike.
"We're all telling the linemen that nobody can shave. Nobody on the team can shave so we'll look older when we go, and get (other teams) all intimidated," he said. "Just little stuff like that gets the team going."
McMichael said the reality of playing his last game for the home fans hasn't quite sunk in.
"It hasn't hit me yet that I'm a senior," he said. "I'm sure Friday night when I'm getting ready and dressing up it will hit me. As of right now, it's hard to think about your last home game. It's tough, but I'm excited and I hope everyone plays well. It's going to be a good game and senior night is a big deal."
Stokes said senior night or not, it's all about business.
"We're just worried about the Cali game because there's a lot on the line," he said. "But we've talked about it a little bit between the seniors."
Win or lose tonight and whether it reaches its goal of a state championship or not, this senior class is leaving behind an incredible, lasting legacy, one the group is proud of.
"It's good to know that we have a team like this senior year, one that has a good possibility of really doing well up at state," McMichael said. "I'm really proud to be here and I'm glad I came back my senior year to play."
And there isn't a single Falcon ready to be done playing just yet.
"Nobody wants the season to end," Stokes said. "We all want it to keep going as long as it can."
JDHS hosts North Pole
Juneau-Douglas also is celebrating senior night this weekend against visiting North Pole with an 8 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
The Patriots are 2-5, 2-3 on the year and the Crimson Bears (5-2, 4-1) already have the Railbelt Conference's No. 2 seed locked up, which includes a first-round home playoff game next weekend.
There is a feature story on a special Juneau-Douglas senior coming soon.
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