Three state high school champs from Gonzaga Prep — two Cougs and a Husky — will line up Saturday for a chance to, again, own the state

click to enlarge Three state high school champs from Gonzaga Prep — two Cougs and a Husky — will line up Saturday for a chance to, again, own the state
WSU photo
Armani Marsh took an interception to the house in the Cougs' 40-13 Apple Cup win last season.

Here in the Evergreen State, two huge football games mark the passing of every year in sports — this weekend's Apple Cup, of course, along with the WIAA Championship that decides the state's best high school squad. Those who have played in both, well, it's a short list.

This year, there will be three former Washington state high school champs playing in the Apple Cup — Husky tight end Devin Culp, along with Cougar defensive backs Armani Marsh and Sam Lockett III. And they're all from Spokane and played on the same team.

"Man, I remember that game like it was yesterday," says Marsh, a senior cornerback who'll don the Crimson and Gray for the last time in Pullman on Saturday.

Let's scroll back to the Tacoma Dome; it's Dec. 5, 2015, and Gonzaga Prep is facing pass-happy Skyline. Many believe the squad from Sammamish already had its sixth state championship in the bag.

"Yeah, we came in as the underdog," recalls Marsh, "and we just dominated."

Prep ran up nearly 600 yards of offense. Marsh, then a junior, had an interception in the end zone; Culp, then a sophomore wide receiver, had two rushing touchdowns. (Prep's running back was Evan Weaver, who went on to become an All-American linebacker at Cal.)

"It felt so unreal and electric playing in my first big-time game like that, sharing all that pride," says Culp, whose current teammate, O-Lineman Henry Bainivalu, was on that Skyline team. "I remember lifting up that trophy, hugging our families. It's what jump-started all of our careers."

Fast forward to this week, and the gang's all back together, this time with the former teammates facing off and statewide bragging rights on the line.

Basketball is a big part of this story, too, as Lockett and Culp formed their friendship on the hardwood.

"I've known Devin since I was 12 years old," says Lockett. "We played travel basketball together. He's been along this journey with me this whole time."

After two third-place finishes in the state hoops tournament, Lockett and Culp broke through their senior season with a state championship in 2018, defeating Federal Way and Jaden McDaniels, currently a Minnesota Timberwolf. Current Zag star Anton Watson was a junior on that G-Prep team, too, but Coach Matty McIntyre credited Lockett and Culp for setting the leadership tone.

"The program has grown around [Lockett and Culp]," McIntyre told the Spokesman-Review after the win. "They've brought us to new heights. They have to be two of the winningest kids in school history, with both football and basketball. They've really created a winning culture."

"Man, basketball, that was my first love, my first passion," says Culp. "Since seventh, eighth grade, me and Sam, we knew we wanted to be part of the Prep tradition. We went 13-8 our freshman year, and I think we went something like 96-13 over four years."

On Saturday, when the Huskies look for their 10th win of the season against the already bowl-eligible Cougars, some of the winningest athletes in Gonzaga Prep's long sports tradition will put on one more show.

click to enlarge Three state high school champs from Gonzaga Prep — two Cougs and a Husky — will line up Saturday for a chance to, again, own the state
UW photo
Devin Culp

Prep Football Coach Dave McKenna loves to think back on those moments, for sure, but he also remembers Marsh, Lockett and Culp as contributors to student life. "It wasn't just about football," he says. "They bought into the whole Prep community."

And they're still connected, coming to games when their schedules allow; Culp even brought a few teammates last summer to lead a free camp for youngsters.

"When the game is on, it's going to be a battle, and that's the way it should be," McKenna says. "But when the game is over and the pads are put away, they're all great friends."

He adds that while people might think it's sort of automatic for great high school athletes to make it at the next level, nothing comes easy when you want to be a Pac-12 athlete.

"Even Devin, he had an adjustment," McKenna says. "You know, they go to college as the best athletes on their team, and then they get there and realize every kid is that athletic. They all found out it's going to take more."

In fact, Culp left Spokane as a 185-pound wide receiver, but the Huskies — known for coaching up the likes of NFL players Will Dissly and Cade Otton — moved him to tight end.

"That transition, it's been a... beautiful challenge, that's what I'd have to call it," says Culp, who now takes the field at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, bigger than a lot of the linebackers he faces. "It's been a grind — you've got to be tough, you've got to be gritty — but I dedicate every single day of my life to it."

"And Armani," adds Coach McKenna, "he had the ability, but he was also the one who just always busted his butt. His hard work put him where he is today."

With a redshirt year along with an extra year for COVID, Marsh, who started as a walk-on, has now been with the team for six seasons. Last year, he was an all-Pac-12 honorable mention, also earning the Pac-12's defensive player of the week award after the Apple Cup in Seattle, where he had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, in the Cougs' 40-13 win. Marsh made interceptions in both the WIAA Championship and the Apple Cup.

"Then Sam, he's taken a tough road to get to where he is, too," says McKenna.

Lockett started his college career at Utah State, transferred to City College of San Francisco and, now a junior safety, he's in his first season at WSU. He credits the work ethic he developed at Prep to keep him moving toward his goal.

"It's been surreal," Lockett says, "a dream come true to play next to Armani." Last week against Arizona, they put on a show, with Marsh picking off his former teammate Jayden de Laura; Lockett got two interceptions.

"I root for them all to do well," McKenna adds, "but I'd love to see Armani or Sam tackle Devin."

click to enlarge Three state high school champs from Gonzaga Prep — two Cougs and a Husky — will line up Saturday for a chance to, again, own the state
WSU photo
Sam Lockett III started his journey with UW's Devin Culp on a traveling basketball team before they were teens.

With the Huskies losing all the apples last year in Seattle for the first time in seven seasons, by a score of 40-13, Culp is ready.

"Every year, this is a very special game," he says. "This year, we're hungry; it's gonna be fun."

Marsh says he's excited to line up against Culp one last time. "Having us all on the field is a big moment, not just for us, but for the Spokane community," he says. "It's my last game in Martin Stadium, but at the end of the day it's just another game on the schedule."

"I can't think of anybody I'm more proud of than Devin," adds Lockett. "We've lived our dreams out together. We're brothers, always will be; it'll be good to play against Dev."

"Both of those guys are my brothers, I'm so proud of both of them," says Culp. "To see us all having come this far along, we're so blessed." ♦

The Cougars and Huskies renew the annual Apple Cup tradition for the 114th time in Pullman's Martin Stadium. The game kicks off at 7:30 pm and will be televised on ESPN.

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About The Author

Ted S. McGregor Jr.

Ted S. McGregor, Jr. grew up in Spokane and attended Gonzaga Prep high school and the University of the Washington. While studying for his Master's in journalism at the University of Missouri, he completed a professional project on starting a weekly newspaper in Spokane. In 1993, he turned that project into reality...