On Thursday night in Hermiston High’s main gym, the entire community was able to congratulate the new 5A state champions. Although the stands were full of fans in purple Saturday in Hillsboro, many others weren’t able to make the trip 200-plus miles west. For some, the win was seen from an entirely different view.
Eric White, one of the many seniors who will leave a lasting legacy in Hermiston, had one of the most difficult years of any Bulldog.
On the bus ride home from camp before the season began, he and head coach David Faaeteete made a pit stop to the emergency room as White suffered a back injury. Then, in the season opener — a 35-21 loss to Union (WA) — he broke his collarbone in the first quarter. Then, as his injury was healing he got in a car accident, and re-broke his collarbone.
On Thursday, before the community celebration, White was given the Mr. Never Quit team award. Faaeteete praised his ability to come back against all odds, and his persistences to suit up one last time. In White’s final start as a Bulldog, he recorded two total tackles, 0.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery — which proved to be a game changer.
White had added motivation.
“A lot of people don’t know that my grandpa passed away,” he said. “So, throughout the year I had an angel looking out for me, and that’s why I think I was — because when I came back from my broken collarbone there was a 50-percent chance I would break it for the rest of the year and I think he was up there looking out for me.”
White’s grandfather passed a week after he had suffered his first collarbone break. Through his recovery, and in his final game where he and the rest of the Bulldogs earned the school’s second state title, he felt his grandfather’s presence which makes all the awards, all the community support even more special.
“It means everything,” White said. “It means a lot because there were a lot of times this year where I got tested and I had to make the most of it and that’s what I tried to do every week.”
Now a week removed from the final game of the season, the Bulldogs — who finished the year 11-2 — got to pay back a community that has not only supported them this year but over the last three years under Faaeteete and many more before him.
After a team dinner where the coaches honored their athletes with participation and team awards, the Bulldogs filed into the gym in front of a large crowd. Erick Olson, the voice of the Bulldogs spoke, along with Faaeteete. Afterward, everyone poured into the commons area for autographs, pictures with the championship trophy and to reminisce on Hermiston’s title run.
“You know, when I first got here I didn’t know how long I was going to be here,” Faaeteete said. “I thought one year, just coaching getting experience and then find somewhere else but this community really accepted me, took me in and nurtured me into becoming the football coach I am today and it’s a credit to the people here and their loving devotion to their kids.”
The community showed that love, and for the players it was something they will never forget.
“It’s just special because it’s nights like these that I’ll never get back in my high school career,” senior Joey Gutierrez said. “I’m just glad to see that the whole community supports our football program, it’s just great.”
Junior quarterback Andrew James echoed those same sentiments as he is still riding the high from winning his first state title in just his second year starting under center.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without everyone. The families of the team. The coaches, (their) wives, and the kids and just all the support from the community. It’s so big for all of us.
“The vibe around here, it’s unlike any other,” James added. “You go to different towns and you see how other teams work and stuff — they’ve got good things going but we feel like we’ve got better things going here.”
As White, Gutierrez and other stars like Dayshawn Neal, Beau Blake and Jonathan Hinkle hang up their helmets, James will be leading a new Bulldog cast in the WIAA — where Faaeteete wants to become the first coach to win state titles in two different states.
James feels good about those odds.
“It is a legacy we’re starting — two championships in five or whatever years, that’s showing you’ve got power,” he said, “and if we show power throughout a long period of time, it just makes Hermiston look really good.”