Standing on an empty field in Lakewood after wrapping up a long football practice, Tre McDaniel spoke eagerly about what is ahead.
He detailed the expectations this Clover Park High School team — which hasn’t made the state playoffs since 2004 — has for the season, which include building on a 2-8 finish last year.
As a senior, captain, and one of the Warriors’ top players, McDaniel could be the catalyst that leads his team back to the postseason.
“This year, I’m encouraging everybody walking around,” he said. “I’m trying to be the guy that inspires them to work hard.”
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McDaniel was excited, too, as he described the morning in August when a coach from Dakota Wesleyan called him, offering him his first opportunity to play college football.
He was helping take care of his younger brother and sister when the phone rang, and he and his mother, Lori Huntley, 35, celebrated after he verbally committed.
“It means a lot,” McDaniel said. “I will be one of the few males in my family to go to college.”
McDaniel smiles when he talks about the days ahead of him, because there are some tough ones behind.
“When he moved up here he was coming from a bad situation,” Clover Park coach Taz Randall said. “I never asked how bad it was, and we never saw that. We’ve only seen this great kid who has worked hard.”
McDaniel, the oldest of Huntley’s three children, spent much of his childhood living with his mother, grandmother and siblings in Lawton, Okla.
The area they lived in was rural, Huntley said, and had gang affiliations. McDaniel’s father was arrested when he was 3, and spent most of the next decade in prison, Huntley said.
McDaniel started playing football soon after his father was arrested. Huntley and her aunt were on a shopping trip to Walmart one day when McDaniel was 4 years old.
He was scurrying around the store when a local youth football coach spotted him, and asked his mother if he could join the team. McDaniel spent the next eight years playing with that program.
“Tre was my only child, so I started him out at 4 years old playing football, mainly to have a positive male role model in his life, so he would grow up to be a great man,” Huntley said.
When he wasn’t on the field, McDaniel spent his days helping raise his siblings — sister Talaya, who is now 11 years old, and brother Markell, now 9.
“(My dad) was in jail most of my life, and he got out when I was a freshman,” McDaniel said. “My mom has been a single parent all of (my) life, and I’ve been there helping her along the way, taking care of my brother and sister.”
About two years ago, Huntley decided to move her family to Washington to give her children a better environment, away from gang activity and away from other negative influences the streets offered.
“We believe in God,” Huntley said. “To me, when God wants you to change your heart, or surroundings, or way of thinking, he starts to make you uncomfortable. In Lawton, I was getting very uncomfortable.”
She moved to Lakewood in March 2016 at the suggestion of a friend who was in the military. Huntley’s children joined her that June, after school was out.
“I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do, and how to raise my children,” she said. “I made the move to keep my kids safe.”
McDaniel continued to be the supportive son he always has been when they made the move, Huntley said.
She has earned two associate’s degrees from Bates Technical College since arriving in Lakewood, and is now in a nursing program at Tacoma Community College.
“Tre has been the home support, making sure the two little ones get home, get food and get into bed,” Huntley said. “If I didn’t have his help, I would have never made it.”
But McDaniel praises his mother for putting him in an environment where he can succeed.
“She does everything for me, and I just want to give it all back to her someday,” McDaniel said. “I feel like football is my way.”
McDaniel has played on varsity since arriving at Clover Park his sophomore year. He is a two-year captain, which Randall says is rare, and consistently displays a desire to succeed on the field.
“He just cares about football, and he wants to be the best he can be,” Randall said. “He’s encouraging his teammates, getting the guys working out, getting the guys to come to practice, and getting the guys to buy in, because he wants to win.”
McDaniel, a running back and strong safety for the Warriors, also stands out on a stat sheet. Last year, he was a first-team 2A SPSL Mountain selection at running back.
Last week, he opened his senior campaign in a win over Linbergh with big numbers — eight carries for 130 yards and two touchdowns; a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown; and eight tackles.
For McDaniel, though, the positive relationships that football creates, and the winning culture Clover Park is trying to build this season, is more rewarding than the touchdowns.
After that opening win, he and the other Clover Park running backs bought their offensive line doughnuts to say thank you.
He says he enjoys the buildup to game days most, when he gets to wear his golden bow tie and a collared shirt to school, and pass his dressed up teammates in the hallways.
“We’re showing that we’re not just football players,” McDaniel said. “We’re dressing up. We’re showing that we’re young men, and our coaches are building our character.”
McDaniel said he is glad his father will be able to fly up to Washington from Oklahoma City to see him play on senior night in October, and wants to continue building the relationship he grew up missing.
He continues to look forward.
When football season wraps up, he will play basketball for the Warriors in the winter, and run track and field in the spring. After he graduates, he can’t wait to continue his education and football career.
McDaniel says it will be a great feeling to earn his degree, and to be able to say he made it through high school and college.
He dreams of those milestone days ahead when he can show gratitude — to his mother, his coaches and everyone who helped along the way.
“When I’m done, I’ll tell my mom and everyone who pushed me thank you,” he said. “They’re pushing me to be a better athlete, a better leader and a better man.”