HERMISTON — You have probably seen some of Hermiston’s pre-game traditions at Kennison Field, where the Bulldogs (10-2) have gone undefeated, or on the road, where they suffered their only two losses.
The players, donning the home purple and black uniforms, run out onto the field from underneath a enormous inflatable bulldog tunnel. Or, the team is led by one of their seniors, all dressed in the road all-white uniforms, onto the opponents gridiron with the wave of a giant Hermiston Bulldogs flag.
These are the obvious rituals, unchanged and for all to see. But there are plenty of other superstitious practices that the players, and even coaches, do leading up to each game.
They may not be logical, or help the 11 boys on the field come kickoff but when you’re on a nine-game winning streak and playing for the program’s second state title they are as important as ever.
So, senior Joey Gutierrez — who plays both sides of the ball as a wide receiver and defensive back — will enjoy his “ritual dinner” from Quiznos, a chicken carbonara hold the mushrooms. Senior linemen AJ Fernandez and Tyler Hunter will make a trip to Taco Bell on Thursdays, and on Friday mornings you may catch head coach David Faaeteete getting a breakfast croissant from Jack in the Box.
Whether its a signature meal or getting a clean cut before the big day, like Gutierrez and senior lineman Beau Blake, who grows his beard out all week just to shave it the night before, the Bulldogs will have one last weekend to complete their routines. And often times, they are not done in isolation.
The Bulldogs’ pre-game rituals involve getting together with a number of other players and focusing on something other than the upcoming opponent, which this weekend will be the undefeated Lancers who will be playing for their first chance at a state title in 32 years.
At a number of players houses, including junior quarterback Andrew James’ and the Walchli residence, Bulldogs are firing up game consoles and manning remote controls.
“Madden before every game is a must,” sophomore Garret Walchli said.
The wideout duo of Garret and his brother Luke Walchli — who has eight catches for 153 yards and a touchdown this season — are joined by Fernandez and others the night before a game.
If Madden helps players practice their moves, then arguably no one has benefited more than Gutierrez. Lately, he’s been showing off his speed on offense and his football IQ on defense with long runs to the house and interceptions to give momentum back to Hermiston.
He joins juniors Jordan Ramirez, Adrian Mendez and Sergio Rosales at James’ house the night before every game.
The bond the boys share off the field has translated to the turf. The Bulldogs are coming off their best game of the season where almost every aspect of their game is in sync.
“I think it’s all starting to come together,” he said. “I don’t think we all thought it would as freshman but now we are here and it’s just all starting to piece together.”
The pieces, however, didn’t all fit together for quite some time.
Blake remembers a time when the group of boys weren’t as cohesive or as focused as they are now. One of the core group of seniors on the offensive line, Blake’s presence is felt whenever senior running back Jonathan Hinkle finds a gap to run through or James uses his ability to run to pick up the first down and then some.
While the season-long trip to the championships have been filled with memorable stops along the way, what Blake will cherish the most is the bond that has formed even after some bumps in the road.
“The last two years it’s kind of been really divided but this year we’ve really come together and we have an amazing group of guys right now and it’s been great,” he said.
What divided the team years ago has actually been what’s working for them now.
“The biggest thing was attitude,” Blake added. “We had a lot of attitude problems with everybody, even myself — I had some attitude problems. Once we learned that we can take our attitude and put it aside and actually focus and play the game that’s what kind of finally brought us together.”
In Faaeteete’s third year as head coach, he’s instilled a championship mindset and every week makes sure each box is checked. The steadiness and trust he puts in James and crew translates into confidence on the field. It’s something that James reflects on as he leads his team to their final chance at an Oregon state title.
“The connection between all of us guys,” he said, “we have great relationships with every single one of those guys and even coaches, so all of us. Coaches and kids, kids and parents, kids and coaches, everyone.”
For the group of seniors, many of whom will play their last game of football Saturday, it took years to get to this point. Not only to build the connect as Blake stated, but for their efforts on and off the field to come full circle. Faaeteete commends their hard work, effort, and resilience as they wrap up their OSAA Farewell Tour.
“You know they came out of a class of about 28, 30 freshman,” he said,” their numbers were a little down. They were 2-and-7 as freshman, barely won a game. They were close, competed well but then they worked themselves out to do what they have been doing (recently).
“It’s four years of growth and it just shows that dedication to the process, belief in the goals, and belief in what we’re doing here is going to pay off. It really — even though there are doubters and whatnot, I think that’s what I’m going to miss most about this group just their ability to put the naysayers at bay and focus on what they can control: their effort, their attitude and just playing football and competing as a family.” By the time the Bulldogs get to Hillsboro on Saturday, fast food will have been consumed and the game consoles will be cooling down from a long night of work, but one ritual will still need to be performed.
It happens away from the public’s gaze and in a locker room while teenage boys are transforming themselves into Dawgs.
“We have all the linemen go in a group and we play Phil Collins ‘In the Air Tonight,’” Blake said. “It’s a tradition that we slowly put on all of our stuff and right before that big drum solo, I find a wall.”
What happens next is what many have done in their cars while driving or with friends, but Blake does it surrounded by his teammates, his brothers in purple.
“I have to do the drum solo perfect, just hitting (the wall) as hard as I can,” he added, “and then once we do that, we start yelling ‘woo, woo’ and then coach comes in and gives us his speech and then we break on two.
Contact Alexis at email@example.com or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.
How the Hermiston football team gets ready for GameDay