Kaleb McGary can’t get lost anymore.
It used to be, before he moved to Fife, he could get lost without hardly budging. Home was Amboy, a tiny Clark County town in the hills. Already isolated, 14 miles from Battle Ground, McGary could grab his rifle, travel a short distance and spend hours hunting in the woods, where even a guy as large as an NBA power forward could look small next to tall timber.
“I love to hunt and fish. I was always outside,” McGary said. “We lived right next to 70 acres of unused timberland. I used to wander out there with my little .22.”
McGary’s world has changed, and in his new landscape, he’s impossible to miss.
At 6-foot-8, 275 pounds, McGary is the latest, biggest addition to the Fife High School football team this fall, having transferred from Battle Ground.
The junior lineman already is popular at the new school and with Pacific-12 Conference football recruiters. Players have embraced him and are ready to go as far as the big guy with the cowboy hat will take them.
“He’s not afraid to call kids out,” Fife coach Kent Nevin said. “He leads by talking, and he leads by example, which is a great thing.
“The kids have welcomed him with open arms.”
McGary, nicknamed “Big Country” around school, is grateful for how he’s been received at Fife.
The transition to a new location at this time in his life wasn’t exactly planned. The family lost its minifarm because of foreclosure. When it became apparent the matter couldn’t be resolved, McGary’s grandfather, Michael Soulier, offered a solution: Come home.
McGary’s parents, Justin and Cassandra, both graduated from Fife High School in the 1980s. Justin McGary, recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, knew at some point moving back to Pierce County to be closer to extended family made the most sense.
The McGarys decided to head north.
“This is where my wife grew up,” said Justin McGary, who works as a longshoreman. “This is where we went to school. I know there are better sports teams he could have played at, but education is a big deal. We knew the Fife School District. We knew the school. We know it’s excellent. Besides that, this is where the house is.”
At Fife, Kaleb McGary hasn’t altered his style. He’s often seen wearing a cowboy hat, boots and Wrangler jeans.
He misses his close friends and tries not to think too much about it. Yet, he’s found that the enormous support from his new friends at Fife has eased his transition from a country setting to a more urban environment being so close to Tacoma.
“Football at Fife has pretty much been my saving grace,” McGary said. “When everything seems like it’s too much and stuff builds up, it’s really been good for me. I’m lucky I have that outlet. The guys accepted me right away. I like all of them. I was really fortunate to come up here and be accepted so readily like I was.”
He has found the surroundings to be similar as well.
“Fife was probably as good as it could get,” said McGary, whose family now lives on one acre as opposed to the five-acre property in Amboy. “It’s as close to the same setting as possible. It’s a small-town school with a little bit of a farming community here and there. It’s kind of like where I used to live. It’s definitely a different lifestyle and a lot busier for sure.”
McGary has been plenty busy on the football field as well, playing both ways as a tight end and interior defensive lineman for the Trojans.
Oregon State University already has offered a scholarship to the projected offensive tackle. The Washington Huskies are in frequent contact.
McGary is considered to be one of the state’s top prospects for the Class of 2014. He and another top junior recruit, noseguard Monike Failauga, who’s 6-2, 310 pounds, are the biggest movers on a Fife team that is 3-3 so far this season.
This is McGary’s first season as a tight end, having formerly played offensive tackle for Battle Ground. So far, he has four touchdown catches.
“We definitely want to get him the ball more,” Nevin said. “But he draws three or four defenders. That lets us do a lot more with other people.”
Nevin has been impressed with McGary’s work ethic, unselfishness and leadership skills. He has watched McGary run extra sprints and shout encouragement to teammates during practice.
McGary embodies the team’s motto of ATF: Always Team First.
“He likes the fact that nobody is bigger than the team,” Nevin said.
Even when you stand taller than some trees.