Nick and Trapper: South Whidbey’s athletes for any season

South Whidbey High School buddies and three-season athletes Nick Tenuta, front, and Trapper Rawls reflect on the games they played, their education and the nature of island life.   - Jeff VanDerford / The Record
South Whidbey High School buddies and three-season athletes Nick Tenuta, front, and Trapper Rawls reflect on the games they played, their education and the nature of island life.
— image credit: Jeff VanDerford / The Record

Nick Tenuta and Trapper Rawls first crossed paths in the third grade.

They’ve been friends ever since.

“It was Little League, or maybe Islander’s football,” Tenuta recalled. Rawls noted they’ve been playing one sport or another ever since, often on the same team, though they occasionally go their own way.

Both have been on the varsity football and baseball teams all four years at South Whidbey High School, but in winter Rawls wrestles while Tenuta usually goes out for basketball.

They have their favorites.

For Rawls, it’s football. Tenuta prefers baseball, slightly.

“Football is a real team sport and the coaches go a far distance making it special for all the players; a real family environment,” Tenuta said. “Baseball focuses on the individual working within a team structure.”

Falcon baseball coach Dave Guetlin has worked with both for four years.

“Both guys are what every coach wishes for,” Guetlin said. “As far as what they have in common, I would say an amazing, burning desire to be successful at whatever they do.

“No matter what sport Trapper plays, he leaves everything on the field and his opponent knows he’s been in a war. Nick is the same way. He came to us as a pitcher and shortstop, but has worked his way into being a three-year starter in center field,” Guetlin said.

Last February, Rawls placed fourth in the 285-pound division at the state wrestling finals in Tacoma.

“Trapper is just plain a great kid,” said Falcon wrestling coach Jim Thompson. “He’s coachable, funny, a leader and willing to work hard. He would also give you the shirt off his back, and would do anything a coach would ask of him.

I would be proud to have Trapper as one of my sons.”

It is that level of support and guidance that Rawls and Tenuta cite as making a difference in their upbringing on the island.

“Coaches, teachers, adults in the community and our parents have given us life lessons we’ll never forget,” Tenuta said.

“They’ve enabled us to become men,” Rawls added.

Tenuta was born in Langley and still lives in the same house; Rawls came here from Oregon when he was 1. They say their education in the public school system has allowed them to pursue their future educational goals.

Rawls plans to study engineering while Tenuta is considering a career as a teacher, or perhaps journalism. Both are in the process of submitting applications and touring colleges; Rawls at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Tenuta at the University of Portland.

“CWU is far enough away, but still close and there’s a lot of hunting and fishing, too,” Rawls noted. Tenuta has six applications out, but his brother Adam goes to the University of Portland and that’s where the Falcon senior expects to land.

For both athletes, the high points of their Falcon careers revolve around football.

“We’ve been on a varsity team that didn’t win a game our first year, then became a winning team two years in a row,” Tenuta said. “We were part of that transformation.”

Football coach Mark Hodson appreciates what the guys have gone through, adding that the pair finished with a 15-5 record over their final two years at South Whidbey High.

“Both Trapper and Nick were leaders from the first day they showed up as freshman,” Hodson said. “They brought a lot of potential to the team, and the Falcons enjoyed the benefit of their participation.”

He remembers Tenuta catching a punt at Port Townsend, then weaving through defenders on his way to a touchdown.

“He put on quite a show that day,” Hodson said.

There were other moments that made a mark with the eight-year coach.

“Trapper would write a note each week on the team white board, which always impressed me. Both of these guys are great to be around, two of the most intense competitors I have ever coached,” he added.

It isn’t all footballs, bats and mats, though.

When off the field, Tenuta listens to jazz and watches Monty Python movies. Rawls is all about country-and-western, and said “Rio Bravo” is his favorite film.

“Actually, anything with John Wayne,” he said.

Tenuta recalled once in the seventh grade sneaking out of the house to the middle school and dodging cars in the street. They got caught by Rawls’ mother and both remember the yelling.

“Our parents overreacted,” Rawls noted dryly.

Tenuta said the best part of growing up on Whidbey was the small-town feeling where everyone knows and looks out for everyone else.

“The worst part is it’s a small town and folks are watching all the time; you have to be careful of what you do,” he added.

They feel they’ve been given the right tools to face whatever life away from Whidbey has to offer.

“I can’t remember a time when both our parents weren’t in the stands, supporting us all the way,” Tenuta said.

“They taught us the importance of making the right choices,” his buddy added.

Coach Hodson summed up the feelings of those who know Nick and Trapper.

“I’ll miss coaching both of these young men, and I know I’m a better person after having been around them,” Hodson said.

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