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Wahkiakum-Rainier(W)-Football (copy)

Mules quarterback Luke Brown and head coach Eric Hansen talk on the sidelines between plays.

The saying started when Wahkiakum was down and out.

Mules coach Eric Hansen began reciting “we’re all we have; we’re all we need” a few years ago after hearing it on the sidelines somewhere. It has never rang truer.

The Mules have fought through trials few teams face.

Following the brain injury sustained by Beau Carlson in Week 2 — whichleft the sophomore in critical condition and put him in the hospital for weeks (he returned home recently) — it gave pause to the team. Some players left willingly.

“The hardest part of the season has had to be staying focused on football when one of our teammates was in the hospital hearing good news then bad news,” senior quarterback Luke Brown said, “and wondering how his life might be affected.”

The injuries continued, though none as life-threatening, and 10 games in, the Mules once-promising season appeared to be slipping from their grasp.

But here the Mules are, in the state tournament for the first time since 2013. They’ll face Tri-Cities Prep on Saturday in Pasco.

“If you said we’d be this far after all of that,” Hansen said “most people would tell you you’re crazy.”

Wahkiakum was working with 18 players in Brown’s freshman year. Now the team is at 21, and only a bad break away from being able to practice properly. There’s an emboldening feeling that comes with the statement Hansen once again is issuing, which has been necessary after the litany of players to have gone down this season.

“Back when we had low numbers, and midway through this year, he really started saying it again,” Brown said. “All the guys have embraced it and I would say it’s the motto of our team now.”

Down so many players, the challenge was getting former reserves up to speed. That included players who’d never played high school football before getting a start in a district crossover game last week.

“Next man up has definitely been a reality this year and showed the importance of the second-team guys knowing our stuff and their role,” Brown said. “(Lineman Zayne Meneou) had all the tools and can do it; he just needed to know he could and play fast and confident.”

While the negative impact of Carlson’s injury lingered, the positives that have emerged are helping the team move forward. And the community is moving with it.

“Our coaches have done a phenomenal job of keeping those kids out there working together and using a terrible situation and making a positive out of it,” athletic director Rob Garrett said. “It’s just a testament to how hard those kids that are still out there have worked, how hard the coaches have worked, to put all this together and make this a positive season with everything that’s gone on. I think that’s a huge life lesson: Life is going to throw you curveballs and you have to be willing to step up and take a swing at it.”

The motto Wahkiakum has lived by this season is simply symbolic of how the group operates. It’s a perfect summary, maybe, but really just a few words. How the guys have come together, that’s what’s made everything work.

“Staying positive and making practice fun has been the thing that’s helped us get over the humps,” Brown said. “The four leaders Evan Quigley, KC Beery, Ashden Neimeyer, and I have been trying to bring a lot of energy to practice everyday and I think it’s worked. Everyone enjoys going to practice and has fun together while working. So overall just all the guys wanting to be out there and believing we can still achieve our goals has been the thing that’s kept us afloat.”

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Sports Reporter

Jason is a journeyman sports reporter who has covered the Golden State Warriors, Oakland A's, along with a heavy emphasis on the Oakland Raiders. He comes to Cowlitz County from Oakland, Calif. and is a loving father.

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