Nicke Wales' first sport was hockey, but since moving into football he has excelled.



Nick Wales followed his father's footsteps into the starting halfback/linebacker position for the DeSales Irish.

WALLA WALLA - Like father, like son.

That motto has helped get DeSales senior Nick Wales to his running back and linebacker role with the Irish football team.

"I grew up watching Nick's dad, Darrin, play football at DeSales," Irish head football coach and DeSales alum Pat Graham said. "I remember when they went to the King Bowl. I've known his family for a long time. He (Nick) has a little bit of that football blood in him."

Nick's mom, Crystal, is a Wa-Hi product, but Nick has followed his dad and older sister, Kristen, to DeSales. Kristen, whose cookie baking talents are somewhat legendary on the Irish campus, is continuing her study of culinary arts, and Nick has plans to continue his education after graduation.

"My favorite class is anatomy and physiology," Nick said. "I like to study the muscles and all the parts of the human body. I think that is what I want to do after high school is study that kind of stuff - like physical therapy, sports science, something in the medical field.

"I know I want to go to college, I don't know where yet," Wales continued. "I'm looking at some athletic scholarships, if I want to go that direction. It (the college decision) is just a big mess right now that I haven't sorted out."

Unfortunately, Wales is getting a close-up and personal view of his possible career choice as he recuperates from a thigh bruise he suffered in the Waitsburg-Prescott game (a 33-14 Irish loss).

"We're icing it and getting therapy," Wales said of the injury. "It feels better and I hope to play Friday (at Rosalia)."

It turned out he wasn't able to play in the Irish's 58-21 victory over Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia.

Wales' journey to his position of senior leader on the Irish football team started in an ice rink. Hockey was his first sport of choice.

"I played hockey ever since I was 4," Nick said. "I played year around. I played in the Tri-Cities and every night we had to get on the road and travel to the Tri-Cities and practice from 8 'til 11, and we'd have two games, mostly out of town, on the weekends. I got pretty tired of it. That's why I wanted to get into high school sports. I knew my dad went through that (high school sports) and that sounded appealing to me."

Although Nick keeps in touch with his ice skating roots by continuing recreational skating, hockey's loss has been DeSales' gain as Nick is in his fourth year of football and is a state contender in track during the spring.

"Nick has been willing to do anything that we've needed him to do," Graham said. "When he was younger, we asked him to play receiver, then the next year we moved him to tight end, and this year, we needed him to play running back. He's stepped in and done a great job.

"He never expresses any ill will about having to do that (change positions)," Graham continued. "No matter what we ask him to do, he jumps in and gives 100 percent. That says a lot about him as a person."

Running back brings Nick full cycle in his football career, which started in middle school as a running back.

"Because I had that experience, they decided to put me back there (at running back) again," Wales said. "I liked tight end, but personally didn't feel that I had the hands to rely mostly on catching the ball. I feel I can run the ball better than I can run out and catch it."

With the move to running back comes increased responsibilities that Nick has grown into.

"Now is his time to be a big part of the offense," Graham said. "He's accepted that real well."

"I have to step it up a lot (at running back)," Wales said. "I have a lot more pressure. If (coach) Graham needs to get away from the passing game, he needs to be comfortable to give me the ball."

Wales (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) doesn't just play offense, but is also a central cog on the Irish defense at middle linebacker.

"He has the physique to play inside (linebacker)," Graham said. "He can run sideline to sideline. He makes plays. He's the captain of our defense and the heart of our offense. He's embraced the responsibility that comes with that."

"I'm in charge of delivering the (defensive) plays," Nick said of playing linebacker. "If there's miscommunication, a lot of it is my fault because I have to direct people. It's my job to stop the run. If we can't stop the run, they (the coaches) look to me to fix it."

In addition to Nick's football success, he is a standout on the Irish track team. At last season's state Class 2B meet, Wales finished second in the 300-meter hurdles, running a 40.62 seconds to trail Riverside Christian's winner Derek Byrne by less than a second.

"I like to run track," Nick said. "I like the team aspect of football, but I don't feel the pressures (in track) of needing to do it for the guy next to me (like football). It (track) is just more on me, but there's not necessarily anything at stake (except my own performance)."

There is still work to be done in the Irish football season before Wales can turn his attention to a run at a 300 hurdles title in the spring.

The Irish are 1-1 in the Southeast 2B conference and need some wins to make a playoff run. They had to Asotin Friday.

"We have to focus on the game this week," Wales said of the rest of DeSales' season. "We have to focus on who we have this week and try to get the W. We have to forget the last game and not worry about the game next week. You gotta take it one step at a time."

For Wales, that preparation begins with controlling his emotions.

"I try to keep my mind off of it (the game)," Wales said. "You have so long to get ready for it (the game), and get focused. I understand you need to be focused, but one thing that troubled me is my nerves would really get to me. Now, I try and keep my mind straight and keep level-headed. It's really a challenge for me to make sure I keep my mind clear. But it's funny about nerves, because the first kickoff rolls around, and it all goes away. It's a relief feeling."

And for Nick, the influence of Kristen and Crystal may be the secret to helping control those emotions.

"Growing up, I'd always come home from hockey starving," Nick said. "My mom would always prepare meals for me, but I was growing and would be hungry two hours later. I developed a little passion for cooking. I'm not making chicken cordon blue, but I learned a waffle recipe. I made waffles almost every night, and that was my favorite snack. Throw some peanut butter on there and put some syrup on it and you're good to go.

"My sister still talks to me about it (waffle making). I still make them sometimes, and she wants us to open a bakery," he continued. "My mom tries to get me to make new things. My new thing is trying to master the spaghetti recipe."

Waffles might help the Irish leader, but DeSales needs to get it done on the field to make its yearly playoff run, and Wales plays a key part in that goal.

"Nick has had to embrace being a team leader," Graham said. "As a sophomore and junior, he never had to be out front. He's learning how to fit into that role of being a more vocal leader. That role might be just as important as his role on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Every team has to have great leadership. He (Nick) is working hard at being that guy."


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