Walking off the field after his first spring football practice in more than two years, Bellarmine Prep senior Dan Joyce heard a booming voice calling his name.
Joyce didn’t expect anyone to be looking for him, so he kept walking.
When the voice rang out again, Joyce turned around. A Portland State football coach, who stopped by Bellarmine on the recruiting trail, wanted to say he liked what he saw out of him.
“I was like, ‘What?’” Joyce recalled with a laugh Tuesday after practice at Mount Tahoma Stadium. “I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing out here. I’m just learning.’”
But after two seasons away from the sport, the encounter was perhaps a sign that the senior was back on the right track. After all, he’d quit playing football after his freshman year to focus on basketball.
“I didn’t play a lot (as a freshman) and I didn’t know if (football) was the right choice for me — and I was really skinny,” said Joyce, who is now 6-foot-6 and weighs 220 pounds. “I wasn’t really sure if I could handle (the physicality on) my own. (But) every year I missed it more and more. This year I was finally, like, I don’t want to regret this in my life.”
Joyce missed the camaraderie that comes with being on a football team, and longed to hang out and suit up with his friends, particularly senior linebacker Brandon Thompson, his closest friend since freshman year.
“I just missed the team atmosphere,” he said.
After working hard during the spring to get up to speed on the defensive sets and terminology, Joyce earned a starting spot at defensive end — right in front of Thompson, and outside linebacker.
“We were excited to have him (on the team),” Thompson said.
Although Joyce wasn’t the first football player to leave the program and then return, coach Tom Larsen said Joyce is the only one in recent memory to come back and earn a starting spot.
“It’s an indicator of what kind of athlete he is,” Larsen said.
After a bit of a slow start, Joyce has carved out a niche on a defense that hopes to slow down undefeated Camas at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Class 4A state semifinals at the Tacoma Dome.
Joyce calls not playing football the previous two years “a big regret,” and he has been bent on making up for lost time this season.
“I went in (with the mentality) of (playing) wherever they want me,” he said. “Defensive end found me, and I love it. I feel pretty comfortable in what I can do.”
Joyce also feels great about having the support of his teammates, who all know of his desire to be out there with them.
“He’s been playing his face off every game,” Thompson said. “It has been great to see. Week to week he’s been getting better and better. You can see that in the game and practice.”
The possibility of a storybook ending — winning a 4A title — with a group of friends he missed being around makes the decision Joyce made that much sweeter.
“I couldn’t be any more excited,” he said.