Weston-McEwen coach, seniors bonded for life

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ATHENA - Weston-McEwen coach Kenzie Hansell learned most of his football Xs and Os during his playing career at Washington State University.

But he absorbed his coaching philosophy from his parents growing up on a wheat ranch near Hermiston, where he attended high school and graduated in 1999.

For instance:

"Do what is asked of you, and do it when you are asked," is a constant refrain that can be heard at TigerScots practices and during games.

Of all the team's rules, the most hallowed asks seniors to leave the program better than they found it and underclassmen to send the seniors off on the best possible note.

And above all, never forget that a football team is family.

"It's just the way I was raised," said Hansell, who will lead his "Family" into the Oregon Class 2A state semifinals on Saturday when they will meet No. 1-ranked Scio at Hillsboro Stadium a few miles west of Portland just off the Sunset Highway. Kickoff is slated for 2:15 p.m.

"A lot of my coaching philosophy I picked up from my parents," he said. "Mostly it's about how you treat kids, that no matter what happens you are proud of them and you care about them on and off the field.

Tyler and Francie Hansell followed all of their children's athletic exploits at Hermiston High, as they did when Kenzie moved on to Pullman and played wide receiver for Mike Price and Bill Doba.

"Mom always told us we looked good in our uniforms," Kenzie remembered of his early years. "And Dad always told us what we needed to work on.

"I think my sister Erin said it perfect when she said that Dad was our engine and Mom was the caboose," he added. "We all followed our dad, but it was our mom who kept us all in line."

After he graduated from WSU in 2004 and took over the operation of another of the family ranches near Athena, Hansell came to the realization that football was still coursing through his veins. So he applied for and was hired as the Athena-Weston Middle School head coach in the fall of 2005.

And he was quickly joined by his father, who volunteered as an assistant coach.

Tyler Hansell had been a star athlete at McEwen High and graduated in 1964, long before the high schools in Athena and Weston consolidated. Tyler then walked on at Washington State and earned a fullride scholarship in football and also lettered two years in wrestling as the Cougars' heavyweight.

During their second season together at the middle school, the Hansells were greeted by a group of 11 seventh graders who were destined to turn the TigerScots' football fortunes into gold. Eight of those original 11 players will be on the field Saturday in the state semifinals.

"You could tell they were a special group of kids," Kenzie Hansell recollected. "It was just their willingness to learn and work hard and become a team. It was not a large class overall, but they are kids who get along and work together. They are friends."

They weren't particularly successful on the field, however, posting records of "right around .500," Hansell recalled. But if that was a hardship, it was nothing compared to what the entire TigerScots family experienced in the summer of 2008.

Kenzie had just been promoted to varsity head coach, moving up at the same time that promising group of middle schoolers was enterting high school. And his dad planned to continue to help his son as a varsity assistant for his old school.

But on June 19, Tyler Hansell died of a brain aneurism. He was 63.

"It was tough," recalled TigerScots senior Elliot Salter. "We were all really close. Having coach Hansell's father around was like having another father figure for that period of your life. They were basically the same person, always happy. Two great guys to have in your life.

"I think it hit us a lot more when we went to the funeral and saw coach and how it was affecting him. It was a down time. We got together and realized we needed to be there for our coach and pick him up."

What they decided to do was dedicate their high school football careers to Tyler Hansell's memory. Tyler's No. 71 McEwen uniform number has adorned each player's helmet for the past four seasons, and a large No. 71 has a place on the team's locker room wall where each TigerScot player can touch it on his way to the practice field and games.

"It's special, no doubt about it," Kenzie said of his players' ritual. "Your dad is your hero, and to see these kids respect my dad like that, it leaves me speechless.

"But that's what this is all about," he added, struggling for composure. "It's about family. No matter what happens, no matter what life gives you, you have your family. And these kids are my family."

And family, of course, is forever.

"I can guarantee you that we will be friends forever, there is no doubt," Dallas Reich, another of this year's seniors, said of his head coach. "He is an incredible guy who will never hesitate to help you if you call and will stand up for you no matter what.

"And coach's father was a big role model to all of us," Reich added. "He was a really big influence."

The other six seniors who have formed the nucleus of the team since they were in the seventh grade are Jared Bond, Jimmy Baker, Nick Lively, Ron Terjeson, Riley Sederburg and Zach Sundin.

Tyler Holland and Collin Snyder are two other seniors who remain at W-M but are no longer playing football. Holland was injured in a summer auto accident and hopes to return to health in time to play basketball. Snider has dedicated his senior year to a school project that will help him become a paramedic.

"Those two would have helped our football team for sure," Hansell said. "Just like every other kid on the team."

Austin Schuening and Greg Papineau are the two other seniors on this year's football roster. Schuening moved to the Athena area this year and Papineau has been on the team since his sophomore year.

Reich is the team's quarterback, defensive back and punter.

"Dallas was a wide receiver, but we had unfortunate injuries his sophomore year and I went to him and asked him to play quarterback," Hansell said. "His career record at QB is 22-5, and he is 19-2 the last two years as the starting quarterback.

"He's an all-around athlete. He has options. And I will support him in whatever he decides to do as a collegiate athlete."

Hansell viewed Salter, a running back and linebacker, as being "too small to play football" as a seventh grader. That was before Salter proved the coach wrong when he finally got his chance to play.

"I didn't want to get him hurt, but we played an extra quarter in a game against Heppner and he ran for two or three touchdowns," Hansell remembered. "I went, oh, oh, maybe I've made a mistake here. He's just such a tough, tough kid who loves to play football."

Bond plays wide receiver and defensive end and came into his own as a senior, Hansell said. "He's one of those kids who loves to block, and you don't find many high school players like that," the coach said.

Baker is a four-year starter on the offensive line "who has gotten bigger and stronger and better each year." Hansell calls Lively, a wide receiver and linebacker, "pound for pound the toughest kid I have ever coached." And Terjeson, another wide receiver, "is a big target who catches the ball well and has an awesome sense of humor that keeps us all laughing."

As for Sederburg, the team's nose guard: "He is our emotional leader, and every team we play has to key their offense around him," Hansell said. "You can ask him to run through a wall, and if he doesn't do it the first time, he will get up and try again."

Sundin, who is a Helix student, is a versatile lineman who plays both sides of the ball and "has also gotten better every year and is willing to play wherever we ask him to play," Hansell said.

Papineau, also of Helix, "is a disciplined, coachable kid," Hansell said. And Schuening "has really picked it up and stepped up at wide receiver and linebacker."

Saturday's game at Hillsboro will be Weston-McEwen's second trek across the state in as many weeks. They traveled to Mount Angel in the Salem area last weekend and defeated Kennedy 20-6 in the state quarterfinals.

If the TigerScots are victorious over Scio, they will be asked to cross the state again next weekend for the Class 2A state championship game against the winner of Saturday's Oakland-Gold Beach semifinal.

Although the scheduling demands seem unfair, Hansell remains unfazed.

"As a coach, I love to play at home," the TigerScots coach said. "But there's also something about getting off that bus, leading your team off the bus and looking up into the stands and seeing more of our fans than the other team's fans. Our community is so dedicated. I love it.

"There's also a lot you can gain on a road trip," Hansell added. "You don't have the distractions you might have at home. You're on the bus, thinking football, talking football, you gain a lot because you are all together."

Call it quality time for a football family.

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