Peninsula High QB Payton Knowles playing for Caleb Wanaka

Peninsula High quarterback Payton Knowles is having a memorable senior season. But it’s the number on his jersey that inspires him on Friday night.

GIG HARBOR, Wash. — Peninsula High quarterback Payton Knowles is having a senior season to remember. He has nearly 2,000 all-purpose yards with nearly 20 touchdowns.

In this week’s Prep Zone, Chris Egan explains that it’s the number on his jersey that inspires him on Friday nights.

It’s one of the biggest high school rivalry games in the state.

The Fish Bowl, Gig Harbor vs. Peninsula. Peninsula won that season with Knowles at the helm.

“This is my family,” Knowles said. “There’s no place I’d rather be. It’s the best win in the world.”

But two years ago, Knowles actually played for the other team.

“I decided to go to Gig Harbor because I thought it would give me a better chance of playing baseball, football and then basketball when I was younger,” Knowles said. “I thought I would have a better opportunity there.”

Football aside, Knowles is one of the top shortstops on the west coast.

He hit .527 last season and signed on to play baseball for Gonzaga.

“Baseball is my first love,” said Knowles. “I’ve been swinging a racquet since I could stand and walk, so for me it’s like life. I love it so much.”

Knowles began playing for the Gig Harbor Sting Rays at the age of seven. There he met Caleb Wanaka for the first time.

“He was always just a big, big kid,” Knowles said. “Always super talented wasn’t always so fast until he got older. But he was a leader. He was passionate and he was fiery.”

The two hit it off and played with or against each other for the next 10 years.

“He was competitive in everything he did, whether it was in the classroom or on the field,” Knowles said.

“Payton would hit and then Caleb would hit right after him or vice versa.

The two friends went their separate ways in high school, Wanaka to Peninsula and Payton Knowles to The Tides.

“He wasn’t happy,” Payton Knowles said. “I heard about it every day. What did he say? He called me a traitor. He punched me in the arm. He wasn’t happy.”

Rivals but still friends. During the pandemic, they’ve been spending a lot of time at Payton Knowles’ home lifting weights and banging in the cage.

Payton Knowles and Wanaka were scheduled to meet on June 28, 2021.

“We should have an elevator in our house,” Payton Knowles said.

But Wanaka visited some old friends instead. That day there was an accident on the Bliss Cochrane Road.

According to the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, the truck they were in went off the road and struck a tree. Wanaka and three others were thrown from the back of the truck. Wanaka died from his injuries that night.

“It changed my perspective on everything,” Payton Knowles said. “This whole summer has been torture emotionally and physically because we still played every day and played on the field without any of your brothers.”

After the memorial services, Payton Knowles decided he had to return to the Peninsula.

“These are the people who know and love him as much as I do, and for the healing process for both me and the other kids, I need to be right there to help each other heal,” said Jill Knowles.

“When he reached out and said he needed to move to be with people who were going through the same process, we totally respected that,” said Ross Filkins, Peninsula’s head football coach and athletic director.

Payton Knowles, a standout in baseball and basketball, also wanted to play football in his senior year.

“Yeah, he’s got jerseys and everything,” Payton Knowles said. “He had all his equipment with him. Number 9, he wore it to baseball, basketball and football.”

The number nine is just a number to some, but not to Payton Knowles.

“I thought the best way to honor him is to wear this number,” Payton Knowles said. “And it’s what I did. And we ran with it.”

This season, every snap, play, and pass has an added purpose.

Payton Knowles became friends with Wanaka while playing baseball and his friend still pushes him to do his best.

“He takes Caleb with him everywhere he goes,” said Jill Knowles.

“I feel it every time I hit,” Payton Knowles said. “Every time I’m at school. Every time I’m on the soccer field. At the end of the day, it does everything for him.”

Payton Knowles said he felt Wanaka’s presence at the Fish Bowl that night.

Wanaka meant a lot to the Peninsula community and they will never forget No.9’s legacy

“I just want to make him proud,” Payton Knowles said.

A scholarship was established at Peninsula High in Wanaka’s name.

If you would like to help with the Caleb Wanaka Scholarship Program you can send a check to:

  • Caleb Wanaka Scholarship Fund
  • 9207 158th St Ct NW
  • Gig Harbor, WA 98329

Peninsula High School Baseball Booster
For: Caleb Wanaka Scholarship Fund Peninsula High QB Payton Knowles playing for Caleb Wanaka

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