Editor's note: This is the fourth in a series of seven features on CBBN 3A-4A Tri-City football players that will kick off the 2011 high school season. The Tri-City Herald will present one story a day until its prep football preview Friday.
RICHLAND -- The life of a cornerback can be a harrowing existence.
You spend your time "on an island," the other team throws "bombs" at you, and you have to learn to "tackle in space" of all things.
You can spend all game blanketing every receiver who comes your way, maybe even knock down a few passes. But you slip at the wrong time, get caught with your eyes in the backfield, and you could get beat deep for six. That can deep-six your starting job.
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That kind of pressure can crack a crab and make an oyster spit a pearl. It takes stones to play corner, and big-time toughness to make sure they don't crumble under the pressure.
With Josh Tayamen -- Hanford's returning senior starter and a team captain -- it's no worries. There is nothing he will see on a football field -- a jump ball in the end zone, a 260-pound pulling tackle or even the second coming of Tim White -- that will even come close to resembling pressure. Not the kind he handled on Nov. 23, 2009, nor in the nearly two years since or even in the years going forward.
"You learn to be an adult real fast," he said.
Josh may never forget the details that day nearly two years ago, one that started out as one of his best and quickly became his worst.
"I was just coming back from the football banquet. I got the JV award for defensive MVP, and I was so excited about that, and I came home to some pretty tragic news," he said.
The news that made a 15-year-old's world spin was that his dad, Steven, had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.
The hammer blow was compounded by news the same day that his grandfather, Howard Chappelle, was terminal with a cancer he had been fighting and had a few weeks to live.
The troubles continued. A few days before Christmas vacation, Josh broke the femur in his left leg, snapping the thick thigh bone in a JV basketball game against Richland.
Life had piled up so much grief on the Tayamen family that, when sister Haylee crashed her car a few days later, Josh's mom, Tami, started asking, "What next?"
"I kind of thought I had done something pretty wrong in life," she said. "Was this karmic retribution?"
And then, something else happened. They laughed.
It happened on a family outing when they went shopping. Steven was in a cart with his knee braced following surgery; Josh was in a cast and stuck in a wheelchair; Haylee was walking with her shoulder in a sling.
They drew a few stares from passersby.
"My mom said she felt like she was driving the short bus," Josh said. "You get to a point, even when something bad happens, you laugh."
And you heal.
Haylee's shoulder mended, and she continued dancing with the Eastern Washington Elite and Hanford dance teams before graduating last spring.
Josh, told by doctors he might not walk until June, was mobile in a month and cleared to sprint the day of baseball tryouts.
Steven's healing, of course, has been longer and harder. He spent five months at the Seattle Cancer Center starting last November. Three rounds of chemotherapy, stem cell treatment, an entire week of being so queasy he couldn't choke down any food.
The treatments worked -- the cancer cells are inactive, and Steven is on the verge of remission. But it was tough even for a retired 20-year veteran of the Air Force.
"My body went through some rough times," said Steven, who lost 20 pounds from his 155-pound frame during the treatments.
He got a two-week vacation between treatments when he came home and watched Haylee perform. But he hadn't seen Josh play any sports for what seemed like ages.
When Steven came home last April, all Josh wanted was to spend time with the man who taught him to fish, play guitar and dance.
"I like to hang out with my dad, play chess with him," Josh said. "Every once in a while we go fishing."
Because Steven's immune system is in rough shape, he can't bait a hook or touch a fish. But he still enjoys sitting with a pole in his hands and a line dangling in the water.
Steven, 55, grew up in Hawaii. As a teenager, he worked at clubs as a professional disco dancer in 1974, something like a Hawaiian John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever.
"Bell bottoms, the whole bit," Steven recalled laughing. "I had (a suit) exactly like what John Travolta wore. Identical. There's pictures of me, old black and white, with an afro."
He still plays guitar in a Hawaiian band, Hoaloha Mele, which translates to "friends in music."
His love of music and dance he passed down to all his kids, including 32-year-old John, who lives at home, and 28-year-old Gina, whose home shares a backyard fence with the home in which she grew up.
Gina took time away from her family to stay in Seattle while Steven was there for treatment. Tami made regular trips over, but the younger kids had school commitments.
"I called my wife every day to ask how they were doing," Steven said. "I tried to speak to them as much as I could."
It was a tough time for Josh, in part because of the uncertainty.
"What helped me a lot was my friends," he said, noting his buddy Jordan Schroder and girlfriend Ashley Stewart. "They let me vent on them, sit down and talk. They get what I have to say, get my mind off it."
As does sports.
"It helps because no matter what, when you're out there on the field," he said. "You don't have to think about anything. You just play the game."
Staying busy, he said, is the easiest way to cope.
"If I'm not doing anything, I'm just sitting there thinking about it, and that's not good at all.
"What if ..."
Under difficult circumstances, Josh gained the respect of his coaches.
"He has an exceptional level of commitment," said Hanford head football coach Rob Oram. "He never misses practices, his teachers have very positive comments about the type of young man he is.
"We do a youth clinic, and he does a great job with those little kids. ... He's a very positive influence on the young kids in the community."
All that while also holding down a job at Castle Event Catering to help out with family expenses.
Josh is thinking about following his dad's route into the military. He would love a chance to play football in college but also has an aptitude for math and science.
Before all that, he's just looking forward to his senior season of football, and having his dad in the stands.
"It's going to be a lot different, looking up to see him looking down on me and be proud of what I'm doing," Josh said. "That's where I come from."
It will be a special moment for the father as well.
"I can't wait until football," Steven said. "I like football, and especially when my son is playing.
"He's a captain, it's his senior year. I'm going to try and make every single game. I'm looking forward to it."
* Kevin Anthony: 509-582-1403; firstname.lastname@example.org