RENTON — With the passing weeks and months, residents of Darrington are slowly putting the tragedy of the Oso mudslide behind them.
And as members of the Darrington High School football team found out on Tuesday, plenty of good people in the Puget Sound area are still looking for ways to help that happen.
On the drive to this week’s Central Washington University football camp in Ellensburg, the Loggers took a slight detour to attend a Seattle Seahawks minicamp at the NFL team’s Renton practice facility. Darrington’s players and coaches were invited guests of the Seahawks, and the visit included a chance to get autographs and pose for pictures with many of Seattle’s top players.
“The kids are on Cloud 9 right now,” said Darrington head coach Doug Lenker as he watched his players mingle with the Seahawks after the afternoon workout. “It is,” he added, “a heck of a day.”
This is the second time the Super Bowl champion Seahawks have reached out to the Darrington community. On March 31, and just nine days after the horrific mudslide, several Seattle players traveled to Darrington with members of the Seattle Sounders soccer team. That earlier visit started a conversation that led to the Loggers being invited to Tuesday’s Seahawks practice, which was otherwise closed to the public.
“Just being around all these guys and getting (autographs), it’s a crazy feeling,” said Trent Green, a senior-to-be quarterback and defensive back. “I can’t even explain it. But it’s pretty cool to see all of them and be this close to them.”
Making a great day even better for Green, he was able to say hi to his favorite Seattle player, quarterback Russell Wilson. “I got a hug,” Green said with a grin.
At one point during the workout, wide receiver Sidney Rice wandered over to a cluster of Darrington players and coaches. “Where’re you guys from?” he asked. “Darrington?” Told they were football players, he asked, “You guys going to win the championship?”
Then, seeing one of the players wearing a Seahawks Super Bowl cap, he gave the bill a playful flick with his fingertip and said, “I like the hat.”
The practice lasted about 21/2 hours, and when it was over several Seattle players lingered with the Darrington kids. Among them, Super Bowl MVP linebacker Malcolm Smith and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who were both in the team contingent that visited Darrington back in March.
Linebacker Bobby Wagner, wide receivers Doug Baldwin and Percy Harvin, and offensive tackle Russell Okung were others who came by to chat and sign autographs.
Moments later, the team gathered around Wilson for a group photograph. At the last second, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, smiling broadly, ducked in to be part of the picture, too.
Green ended up with a football signed by Carroll, Wilson, Harvin, safety Earl Thomas and several other Seahawks. The football “is going into a (display) case in my bedroom,” Green said.
Teammate Mason McKenzie, who will be a junior linebacker and offensive lineman/tight end, was carrying a Super Bowl hat signed by several Seahawks. The large signature right at the top belonged to Carroll.
The entire afternoon, McKenzie said, “has been awesome. Seeing all the drills, you can learn stuff from them.”
To his players, Lenker said, the Seahawks “are their heroes. They watch these guys on TV, and now they have a chance to get their signatures and shake their hands and be close to them. It’s a dream come true for most of them.”
As it was for the Darrington coaching staff. “This is an experience for me, too,” Lenker said. “It’s awesome.”
After several minutes of meeting and greeting, the Loggers headed for the parking lot and the journey on to Ellensburg, where they were to open their four-day football camp with a Tuesday evening scrimmage. In an act of real generosity, Central Washington is allowing the Loggers to participate in the camp without charge.
The school first had to get approval from the NCAA, said CWU athletic director Dr. Dennis Francois, “and they said yes, for this situation, they would allow the university to provide free camp for those individuals.”
It was, Francois said, “the least we could do, and we were more than happy to do it. … (The mudslide) devastation changed a lot of lives and it’s something that’s not going to heal overnight, but hopefully this will help bring a little bit of normalcy back into the lives of these student-athletes.”