When North Thurston High School football coach Rocky Patchin rallied his players in the north end zone Thursday night, he said three words to them.
“You finished it.”
Yes, the Rams fended off a late surge to finish Enumclaw, 30-24, at South Sound Stadium.
But Patchin’s words had greater significance.
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He announced his retirement Wednesday after 24 seasons with the program.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” Patchin said. “It’s been my life forever.”
Patchin arrived at North Thurston in 1992. He coached the Rams to a 151-89 record during his tenure, including seven state playoff appearances.
He is the winningest coach in the program’s history, and led the Rams to a third-place finish at the Class 3A state tournament in 2000 — that season had the program’s longest winning streak at 11 games.
The Rams’ most recent state appearance was in 2012, when they took fifth in 3A.
North Thurston had only three losing seasons under Patchin.
“He’s got a great football mind,” former North Thurston offensive coordinator Pete Smith said of Patchin. “He gets his kids to play hard and physical, and he gets them to love the game like he does.”
Smith, who coached alongside Patchin for 17 years, was one of many former colleagues and players to return to South Sound Stadium for the coach’s final hurrah.
“When he told me about being on the sidelines, I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ll be there in a second,’ ” said Tenino coach Randy Swilley, who coached with Patchin for five years. “He just has this way. The way he is with kids. … He just has this really special gift.”
Former University of Washington kicker Ryan Perkins, who graduated from North Thurston in 2005, said he stepped back on the field to honor Patchin’s commitment to his players.
Patchin has sent more than 20 players on to play football in college.
“I think the biggest thing is that he supported us,” Perkins said. “It was something about his style and his relationship with us that drove us to want to be better. Not just for ourselves, but almost for him and the school.”
Another former player, Patchin’s son Jake, was an all-state lineman for the Rams in 2006, and went on to play at Montana Tech. Rocky and Jake both attended the all-state game in Jake’s senior season.
“Being able to have that relationship on top of a father-son relationship, really it was life-changing,” Jake said.
Patchin’s three daughters, Kristin, Stephanie and Katie, also grew up around the program as water girls. His wife, Karen, has been with him for all 40 years of his high school coaching career.
“It’s weird to think of Thurston football without him,” Stephanie said. “It’s kind of been part of our family.”
Thursday’s win pushed Patchin’s all-time record to 227-150. He coached in Oregon and Idaho before North Thurston. He won a state championship with Nampa High School in Idaho in 1984.
He said he will always be a part of North Thurston High School.
“I’ve been telling everybody that the last four or five days have been some of my saddest times ever, and yet some of the most fulfilling times ever,” Patchin said. “Sometimes you have to die before people really tell you how they feel. Fortunately, I’m alive and I’ve gotten so many cool responses from people from all over, from people I coached 30 years ago to current. It’s a warming feeling.”
On Thursday night, he raised his hand for a final time amid a cluster of Rams’ helmets.
“Be a champion,” he cried along with his players.
Plenty of people close to the North Thurston program certainly believe he is.
Lauren Smith: 360-754-5473