By AMELIA VENEZIANO
Of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
MOSCOW, Idaho - College football is rarely predictable.
Few would've called the Idaho Vandals' coming back from 2008's 2-10 season to win the Humanitarian Bowl in 2009, nabbing their first winning season since 1999.
And fewer still might've predicted that 2006 Weston-McEwen High School graduate Clell Hasenbank would be starting at center for this Division I program.
"From Athena to Moscow, I've had a long journey to get here," Hasenbank said after practice recently. "I didn't get any offers out of high school... and I went to junior college with a chip on my shoulder."
Hasenbank, a 6-foot-1-inch, 287-pound senior studying pre-pharmacy and carrying a 3.53 GPA, spent two years at the College of the Siskiyous in California before joining his high-school sweetheart - and now fiance - at Idaho, where she's a second-year law student.
Moscow, a college town of about 23,000 people, sits about eight miles away from another college town about the same size in Pullman. Both are nestled on the Palouse's rolling wheat fields, and the nearest metro, Spokane, is more than an hour away on two-lane roads.
The small-town, agricultural-vibe of the community has been a perk for Hasenbank, he said.
"I like the way it feels," he said. "It's a small town on the Palouse and there are plenty of resources, but it still feels like a small town. I love my teammates, and I love spending time with my friends and family here. It's easy to go home, and it's a great place to live."
And in some ways, it feels like home, too.
"I think that coming from a small town has helped me tremendously," Hasenbank said. "It's helped my work ethic and how I go about my business. I walked on at Idaho and I had to work hard to win a spot, and then work hard to win a starting spot."
Now on full scholarship, Hasenbank is committed to moving the Vandals forward this season and next.
"I want to help the team win," he said.
And last season provided a good motivation.
The Vandals went 2-10 in 2008, when Hasenbank arrived on campus.
"Seriously, nobody came to our games, but we worked hard and got the right players," he said. "Last year was a great year. We learned how to win and now we expect to win every week."
It's been a tough schedule -Idaho lost to No. 7 Nebraska and No. 23 Nevada - but the games have been valuable, Hasenbank said.
"Nebraska was an incredible place," he said of the non-conference loss. "We went in serious about it. We wanted to win."
The Vandals hung with the Cornhuskers through the first quarter, but the home team drew away for the 38-17 victory.
"It was an amazing stadium," Hasenbank said. "There were 85,000 people or something - it was incredible to see that sea of red cheering on Nebrasaka. We wish we'd won, but we took away things to help us."
Idaho (4-5, 1-3) may face its toughest opponent of the season this weekend, when it meets WAC rival and leader - and AP No. 4-ranked - Boise State.
Idaho hasn't defeated its southern neighbor since 1998.
And comments from Boise State president Robert Kustra, made last summer to the Idaho Statesman's editorial board calling the University of Idaho "a culture that is nasty, inebriated and civilly doesn't give our fans the respect that any fan should expect when visiting an away team," will only add to the chip on Hasenbank's and the whole Vandal contingent's shoulders.
The Broncos, 8-0, come to Moscow's Kibbie Dome Saturday.
And no other team would like to beat them as badly as the Vandals.
"That's a goal for myself and the team," Hasenbank said. "There was a T-shirt going around for a while, ‘Nasty and Inebriated.' Someone was making a lot of money selling those."
Whatever the result of that game and the final four of the season, Hasenbank is looking to the future.
While playing football at a higher level is a goal, he's got his sights set on Washington State University's pharmacy program, a four-year program in addition to three years of pre-pharmacy study.
Studying pharmacy, a science-rich curriculum, as an undergrad hasn't made the football schedule easier.
"It's another element that's made it all that much harder," Hasenbank said.
And further in the future, he wouldn't mind coming home to Athena, where both he and his fiance are from.
"I'm committed to supporting the TigerScots," he said.
And encouraging other Athena kids to follow in his path is also on his list.
"It's not impossible (to play D-1 football)," he said. "I did it. No one ever really thinks a kid from Athena can get an athletic scholarship and play D1 ball. But go play, and don't settle because someone said you should. Play where you want to play and make it happen."