Imprinted on the back of every green warm-up shirt that made its way to Tumwater District Stadium on Wednesday morning was the same message.
“One last song.”
The phrase has a specific meaning to the Thunderbirds football team — the players sing following each victory and aim to finish the season with Tumwater’s sixth state championship — but the T-Birds will acknowledge it has other, more subtle meanings.
Wednesday’s first fall practice was the first of many lasts for fabled coach Sid Otton, the winningest high school football coach in state history. Now beginning his 43rd and final season at Tumwater, the 72-year-old says he’s ready to put down his notebook and retire to his home, steps away from the football field.
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“I’m ready,” he said. “You want to enjoy every practice, every day, and focus on these kids.”
Otton has coached thousands. He got his first head coaching gig at Coupeville in 1967. Since then, he’s racked up six state championships — five with Tumwater, one with Colfax in 1971 — and a 384-129 career record in 48 seasons.
“Things come to an end somewhere,” Otton said. “While you’ve still got a chance at something, you want to go out working, doing the stuff you’ve always done, and try to do a little better at it.”
That’s where the song comes in.
Yes, this is the beginning of Otton’s season-long swan song. Same for longtime assistant coaches Pat Alexander and Steve Shoun, who will retire with Otton. Same for Otton’s grandson, Cade — who orally committed to the University of Washington last week — and every other senior on the field.
There’s one more song they all want to sing.
“After every win, we sing a song in the locker room. It’s our victory song,” Cade said. “ ‘One last song’ means we want to end on a victory and sing one more song.”
Ending on a victory means winning the state title that has eluded Tumwater since 2010, when it last won a Class 2A state championship. The T-Birds have advanced to the title game three times during the past four seasons but have come up short each time.
Last season, Cade — whom UW recruited primarily as a linebacker after he made a team-high 138 tackles last season — forced a fumble with 1 minute, 42 seconds remaining in a state semifinal game against Archbishop Murphy. Noah Andrews scored the game-winning touchdown 27 seconds later, lifting Tumwater to a 24-21 win.
The same scenario nearly played out in the title game against Prosser. Cade again forced a fumble in the dwindling seconds. But Tumwater couldn’t convert, and the perfect season ended with a turnover at the 10-yard line.
There’s a renewed sense of urgency this fall, with the end of a long era approaching.
“I remember coming out here for practice when I was little because my grandpa and dad (Tim Otton) were coaching,” Cade said. “It’s crazy being here now. I’m just ready to give it my all with my teammates and hopefully go for a state championship.”
All five of Tumwater’s state championship wins (1987, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2010) are under Sid Otton.
“Obviously there’s nothing left to leave on the table after this year,” Cade said.
Stamped across the chest of the green shirts is the ever-familiar phrase, “Tumwater ‘Winning’ Football.” The left sleeve pays tribute to Sid’s career, his initials and the No. 43.
The right sleeve celebrates what this group of 80 or so players are setting out to do. It says, “212 degrees,” or the boiling point of water. Boiling water produces steam. And steam forms …
“Energy, energy,” Andrews said. “We want to get this so bad. Everybody just wants to get it.”
For their retiring coaches. For their exiting senior class. And for another state championship win to add to the history books.
“One last go at it,” Andrews said.
Tumwater football schedule
All games at 7 p.m.; home games at Tumwater District Stadium; road games on campus of opposing high school
Sept. 2: Tumwater at Franklin Pierce
Sept. 9: Columbia River at Tumwater
Sept. 16: Tumwater at Bellevue
Sept. 23: Union at Tumwater
Sept. 30: Steilacoom at Tumwater
Oct. 7: Tumwater at Centralia
Oct. 14: Aberdeen at Tumwater
Oct. 21: Black Hills at Tumwater
Oct. 28: Tumwater at W.F. West