The bad luck started on the first possession of ESD’s season. Two of the Eagles’ team leaders and top offensive threats went down with serious injuries on the same play.
With quarterback Seth Washington and receiver Davis Beichler sidelined, the team needed someone to fill the void. The coaches turned to Patrick Skalniak.
“They lost a captain, so we needed another guy,” Skalniak said. “I told them I thought any of the juniors could do it.”
That wasn’t exactly what the coaching staff had in mind. They wanted Skalniak to fill that role himself, and make history in the process.
“We’ve had a tradition at our school where only seniors have been allowed to be captains,” said ESD head coach Richard Williams. “For the first time last season we made an exception to that rule and Patrick became a captain as a junior.”
It was an easy choice for Williams. After all, Skalniak played four different positions for the Eagles, not counting his roles on special teams. He was a guy capable of keeping the team on track during an emotional rollercoaster.
Skalniak wound up earning most valuable player honors for ESD last season after setting two school records — one on each side of scrimmage. But for him, those accomplishments were overshadowed by the team’s 4-6 record.
“It was really hard because we had all our chips in to win last year,” he said.
Skalniak was supposed to be a receiver and defensive back last year, but took over as quarterback for a few games while Washington was out. He hadn’t played the position regularly since his gun-slinging days at Keller Middle School. For the versatile junior, it was just another case of playing wherever he was needed.
“Two-way players are so valuable,” Skalniak said. “I joke with coach about putting me on defensive line. I want to be that guy who will step in if needed and make an impact right away.”
Skalniak made an impact in every game for the Eagles last season. As a safety, he intercepted eight passes — tying a school record he set the year before as a sophomore, when he essentially played the spot for the first time.
“They threw me in there, and my skill set really helped me contribute,” he said. “I move my feet well. I can catch the ball. The summer preparation we put in was huge.”
In the season finale a year ago, Skalniak set another school mark with 268 receiving yards in a win over rival St. Mark’s, with Washington throwing him the ball.
“He is a kid that will play with one leg if he could,” Williams said of Skalniak. “He’s played through pain and injury and has never missed a game and absolutely hates to ever come off the field, including on special teams. He wants to always find a way to contribute.”
Perhaps Skalniak’s flexibility comes from his upbringing. He was born in Japan, where his father was stationed while in the Marines. He subsequently lived in California before settling in Texas.
His family moved to Preston Hollow after Skalniak’s freshman year, when he commuted to ESD from Keller. He had to wake up before 5 a.m. every day.
“My mom loves getting here early,” said Skalniak, who has verbally committed to play lacrosse for the U.S. Naval Academy. “It definitely helped me be prepared.”
In addition to remaining a captain, Skalniak will start at his familiar receiver and safety spots this season, as ESD looks to bounce back behind a younger roster. He’s noticed an increased intensity and motivation during offseason workouts.
“We’ve had a lot of team meetings. It’s a different kind of energy,” he said. “Last year’s record does not show who we really were.”