It was a few weeks ago, when Woodinville played Gonzaga Prep in the State Quarterfinals. Former Falcon quarterback Jaden Sheffey was back at Pop Keeney Stadium. He leaned against the fence behind the Woodinville bench. A year ago, he had guided that team to the State Championship game. But now, he was a spectator, watching his old buddies win 45-24.
“It was weird being on the sideline and not being in green,” Sheffey said. “It was also a cool moment. I got to see a lot of old teammates and some of the younger guys who were now on the field. It was great seeing the team succeed... Pop Keeney is a special place.”
Last week, Sheffey was back in town again -- on winter break from George Fox University. He took time on Christmas Eve to talk about various things: His freshman season at George Fox; living on his own for the first time; dealing with pain and regret; and thoughts on his sister Veronica, who’s a freshman guard on the Woodinville basketball team.
When Jaden Sheffey arrived at Woodinville in 2016, he heard the naysayers. He had transferred from Cedar Park, and some people doubted his decision. They said he’d never start at quarterback for the Falcons. But in his two years at Woodinville, Sheffey started every game. He led the team to a 24-2 record. The only losses were to Sumner in the 2016 Quarterfinals and to Richland in the 2017 Gridiron Classic at the Tacoma Dome.
Sheffey signed to play for George Fox, and off to Newberg, Oregon he went for the 2018 season. His goal was to start and play as a freshman. The Bruins went 6-4 on the season, and Sheffey played in nine games, starting five.
His very first pass as a collegiate quarterback was a 74-yard touchdown to Kenny May. George Fox beat Howard Payne 35-3.
“Being able to go in in our first home game of the season, to throw a 74 yard bomb. to see all the work and preparation pay off, was really cool, especially with my mom and dad there to see it.”
Sheffey also had a game against Pomona-Pitzer, where he rushed 9 times for 165 yards and 3 touchdowns. George Fox won 40-6.
“Being in college is a lot different,” Sheffey said. “Football is a grind, It’s like a job. That’s the beauty of high school sports. Last year at Woodinville, you’re playing sports with your friends and having fun with it. College football is still fun, but it’s a little more serious direction, more of a business side to it.”
Sheffey has always been level-headed and thoughtful. But it was still a big adjustment learning to manage his own life and schedule.
“I think it was good for me being away from home,” he said. “I grew a lot as a person, grew a lot in my faith. I met some good people. It was nice to see how I would handle myself and my priorities. Not having mom and dad on me all the time to get my stuff done.
“I’ve always had a pretty strong relationship with God, but going away to college, there’s a big difference being away on your own,” he added. “You have to make choices every day and I have to make sure that the choices I make are appropriate and they reflect my character and how I carry myself in my faith. The decisions I make from here on out are my responsibility, not my family’s.”
Sheffey’s faith in God was secure, but faith with himself was tested. It came in the aftermath of last year’s loss to Richland in the State Championship game. The Falcons entered that game with a 13-0 record. They had crushed every team in their path. They played together with passion and a fierce brotherly bond.
The Tacoma Dome hummed with energy. At the beginning of the game, Sheffey looked up and saw the grandstands brimming with fans dressed in green. It seemed like all of Woodinville was there.
It was all so surreal, watching Woodinville fall behind 28-0 in the first half. These were unchartered waters. The Falcons rallied in the second half, closing the score to 28-21. But it was too little, too late. The Bombers hoisted the trophy to celebrate their State title. The stunned Falcons wandered off the field not knowing what to think.
“We all thought we were going to go 14-0 and bring Woodinville its first State title,” Sheffey said. “In the weeks and months that followed, it was probably one of the hardest things of my life getting through it. I dealt with a lot of depression. People don’t understand if they haven’t played sports, there is a lot pressure on the kids. And you even see it in youth sports, the way parents talk to their kids about sports.
“So there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “And when it doesn’t work in your favor, it hurts a lot. I know everyone on that team and the coaches wanted to win and to see that trophy in our hands at the end of the game. Walking off the field knowing it was our last shot, especially us seniors, it took a toll on everybody. Although it sucked and still haunts me from time-to-time, I’ve tried to move on. I think I have. [It was] something God had to get me through.
Sometimes you have to realize that sports, State titles, Kingco championships, it doesn’t matter in the long run. In the short term it matters. But in the long run, it doesn’t matter.”
Sheffey was asked what he took from that experience.
“What matters are the relationships we all created and the memories we created,” he said. “And the Woodinville community was really brought together last year throughout our journey and the season. Even the last game, it brought everybody closer. As long as we touched lives, that’s what mattered. From little kids that looked up to us, or for being there for each other, that’s what mattered most. That’s what God taught me from that game. It was really special, not a lot of kids get to experience [playing in the Tacoma Dome].”
Winter break will conclude soon and Sheffey will return to George Fox in mid-January. But the Sheffey legacy continues at Woodinville. Little sister Veronica is a freshman point guard for the Lady Falcons basketball team.
“I’m really proud of her,” Sheffey said. “Ever since I was in the eighth grade, I’ve been waking up at 4:30AM and working out at 5AM. And ever since she hit the seventh grade, she started to do that with me. That was her decision. She amazes me out there on the court. She’s very humble. She doesn’t boast about it, and I’m just proud of what she has been able to do. I think it’s cool that coach [Scott] Bullock gave her the opportunity to play as a freshman.”