The top-ranked Lake Stevens High School football team is an overpowering force on the gridiron, having steamrolled opponents by an average of 46.5 points per game during its 6-0 start to the season.
But to a local 4-year-old boy and his family, the Vikings are much more than football stars.
Lake Stevens resident Aliciasue Wright and her family were in need of a helping hand after experiencing some tough times recently. Wright, a 2002 Lake Stevens High School graduate, already was battling multiple sclerosis when she was diagnosed in July with a rare form of cancer called primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma.
Wright wanted to do something special for her son Grayson’s fourth birthday party last month, but finances were tight. She posted on a Lake Stevens mothers’ Facebook page, offering to pay a local high-schooler $20 to spend a half-hour dressed as a superhero at her son’s party.
It led to something far greater than she ever imagined.
“It was amazing,” Wright said.
Lake Stevens standout senior running back Dallas Landeros heard about the situation from his mother, who’d seen the post on Facebook. Landeros had a Central Washington University recruiting visit scheduled for the same day as the birthday party, but he decided to postpone the trip until another weekend so that he could dress as a superhero and surprise Grayson on his special day.
Landeros didn’t know the family, yet that didn’t stop him from choosing the party over his recruiting visit.
“As soon as (my mother) told me what was going on, I was 100 percent all in, because I feel like if I was in the kid’s situation with everything going on, that’s something that he’s not going to forget,” said Landeros, who turned down the money Wright offered. “… Central Washington invited me to their home game and I was planning on doing that, but I figured that this was a little bit more long-lasting and important.”
After Landeros told a teammate of his plan, word quickly spread to other Lake Stevens players. Before long, eight other Vikings were in on it. Landeros bought a Black Panther costume on Amazon.com, and the others also obtained superhero gear in preparation.
Meanwhile, after hearing about Landeros’ plan, Lake Stevens running backs coach Jim Lussier collected a slew of donations from the Vikings’ coaching staff. Lussier used the money to buy gift cards for the family and presents that his players could give to Grayson and his sister.
“It’s one of the coolest things that I’ve got to be a part of as a coach in all my years coaching football, just to know that kids are acting unselfishly and doing right by the community,” Lake Stevens head coach Tom Tri said.
“(Dallas) had every right to go over and be recruited by Central and … sit on their sidelines for free, (but) he chose out of the kindness of his heart to stay here and do something for his own community. That’s just every bit as cool as anything I’ve ever seen before as a coach.”
On the eve of the party, the Vikings earned a hard-fought 35-26 victory in Tacoma over Class 3A power Lincoln. Meanwhile, back in Lake Stevens, a thunderstorm had Grayson dreaming of superheroes.
“He kept telling me that Thor and Iron Man (were coming) because of the thunder and lightning,” Wright said.
Sure enough, a whole pack of superheroes assembled the following afternoon in Lake Stevens. They rode to the party in Lussier’s truck, then piled out onto the driveway in front of the overjoyed birthday boy.
“The excitement and the joy on (Grayson’s) face was priceless,” Lussier said.
Landeros was in his Black Panther costume. Kasen Kinchen was dressed as Spider-Man, standout lineman Devin Kylany as Iron Man and quarterback Tanner Jellison as Hulk. Also on hand was Max Moenoa as Captain America, Joseph Gonzales as Batman, Xander Fogel as Superman and Junior Robinson as Frozone. And then there was Drew Carter, whose flowing hair was the perfect fit for his Thor outfit.
“In shock,” Wright said of Grayson’s reaction. “He was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening?’ Like, completely in shock.”
The players introduced themselves as their superhero personalities, handed out presents and spent time bonding with the birthday boy.
“It made me speechless — completely speechless,” Wright said. “It helped restore my faith in humanity and in our youth. … These boys are going to go so far in life, because they have the compassion. They didn’t have to come to my son’s birthday. They didn’t have to spend the time that they did. We were speechless. … They made my son’s birthday amazing.”
Lussier said he was struck by the players’ selflessness.
“They don’t get a lot of time off this time of year,” he said. “They went to film and treatment (that) morning after playing probably one of the most physical games I’ve seen in a long time down at Lincoln, and decided that this is what they were going to do in their off time.
“You just don’t see that at this age group of kids, especially in today’s world. Everything’s about me. So for them to do that, it was pretty special.”
Yet at the same time, Lussier said this act of kindness was simply an illustration of who Landeros is as a person.
“(He’s) one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever been around,” Lussier said. “It’s phenomenal. He is a wonderful young man. … This world needs a whole lot more Dallas Landeroses in it.”