As the years pass, Connell High School will most certainly add more football championship banners to its gymnasium rafters. The tradition established there is bigger than any one player or one graduating class.
However, the Eagles can look long and hard, but they aren't likely to find another player like Matt Hadley, who hit the ground running as a freshman and didn't stop until he held two state records (and nearly a third).
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound senior running back racked up 124 career touchdowns and 746 career points -- both records for all classes -- and 6,881 rushing yards, second only to 7,755 by Timberline's Jonathan Stewart. He capped his career by rushing for 2,330 yards and 40 touchdowns, leading Connell to its second 1A state title in four seasons.
Hadley, who will suit up for BYU as a true freshman next fall, can appreciate the numbers, but they're not what he's most proud of.
"I would say winning a state championship with the guys I played with my whole life is definitely the perfect ending to my career," said Hadley, the Tri-City Herald All-Area player of the year.
"It's a really cool accomplishment to look back and see that; to be able to share those records with the team and know all my friends were a part of it," he said. "I want to say thanks to my teammates and coaches for always being there for me and for helping me have a successful career."
There were high expectations for Hadley and Connell, which began the season ranked No. 2 in the statewide polls. A Week 3 loss to Cashmere took some of the wind out of their sails but failed to deter the Eagles from their ultimate goal.
Ultimately, Hadley found redemption in a 20-9 quarterfinal win over the same Cashmere team that beat them over two months before.
"We kind of beat the odds, especially after that loss," Hadley said. "We put everybody in their place with that win. It was kind of roll tide after that."
Something else Hadley won't forget was the final play of the championship game at the Tacoma Dome, a hail mary by Cascade Christian that was batted away by Connell defenders, resulting in a 28-7 victory.
"When we knocked that down, I remember hearing the horn go off and feeling a sense of relief," he said. "That dome, though, I can't even describe how it sucks the life out of you. The heat -- you just can't breathe."
One player in particular who impressed Hadley was receiver and defensive back Kade Eppich, who suffered a broken collarbone after intercepting his third pass of the game in the second half. The injury didn't keep Eppich -- a second-team All-Area receiver -- from celebrating with the team on a memorable bus ride home.
"Kade was the player of the game in that state championship. The whole season, the way that kid performed; I can't say enough about him," Hadley said. "I know he was in pain, but that he still wanted to ride back with us was cool."
If you want to talk about a true perfect ending, talk to Waitsburg-Prescott head coach Jeff Bartlow, the Herald's coach of the year. He led the Cardinals to a 13-0 record and the first-ever state championship in the history of either school.
One of the most meaningful aspects of that accomplishment was watching his son, Zach, quarterback the team and rack up some eye-popping numbers (2,333 yards passing, 33 TDs; 1,418 yards rushing, 23 TDs). Zach earned the all-purpose nod to the All-Area first team.
"When Zach was (on the) freshman (team), he went undefeated, and I thought we'd have a chance to be pretty good over his final two years. That turned out to be quite true," said Jeff, who took over at Waitsburg in 1999. "When I got here, my goal was to win a state championship. I didn't know how long it would take."
And now that he's done it?
"The whole thing is overwhelming and humbling," he said. "I'm proud of the kids' work ethic and obedience to what it takes to win a championship. It was a huge accomplishment."
Kamiakin, the CBBN 3A champion and state semifinalist for the second consecutive season, picked up the most first-team selections with seven. Running back/linebacker Zach Umemoto and offensive/defensive lineman Joe Hunt were named on both sides of the ball. Fellow Braves Jesse Houser (kick returner), Drew Oord (linebacker) and James Swinyard (defensive back) also earned spots.
Chiawana, the CBBN 4A champ, earned six spots on the first team, led by wide receiver/defensive back Miquiyah Zamora and offensive/defensive lineman Gates Michel. They were joined by defensive back C.J. Edrington and linebacker Jordan Downing -- a repeat selection along with Hadley, Zamora, Umemoto and Oord.
Southridge took four spots, led by quarterback Matt Mendenhall and receiver Josh Richards, who combined to lead the CBBN 3A in their respective categories. The Suns also had the area's top kicking game, led by placekicker Cameron Mertens and punter Chris Haueter.
Kennewick, which reached the 3A quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, put three players on the first team: running back Grant Woods, linebacker Shaun Smith and defensive back Brock Schuh.
Hadley joined two other Eagles -- offensive lineman Kennan VanHollebeke and defensive lineman Tyson Brook -- on the first team.
Rounding out the first team is Hanford defensive lineman Joe Douglas, Richland offensive lineman Dennis Christensen and Sunnyside defensive lineman Rudy Navarro.
MVP —Matt Hadley, sr., Connell
Coach of the year — Jeff Bartlow, Waitsburg-Prescott
QB — Matt Mendenhall, sr., Southridge
RB — Matt Hadley, sr., Connell
RB — Grant Woods, sr., Kennewick
RB — Zach Umemoto, sr., Kamiakin
WR — Miquiyah Zamora, sr., Chiawana
WR — Josh Richards, sr., Southridge
OL — Gates Michel, sr., Chiawana
OL — Joe Hunt, sr., Kamiakin
OL — Dennis Christensen, sr., Richland
OL — Joe Douglas, jr., Hanford
OL — Kennan VanHollebeke, sr., Connell
KR — Jesse Houser, sr., Kamiakin
AP — Zach Bartlow, sr., Waitsburg-Prescott
PK — Chandler Mertens, sr., Southridge
DL — Joe Hunt, sr., Kamiakin
DL — Gates Michel, sr., Chiawana
DL — Rudy Navarro, sr., Sunnyside
DL — Tyson Brook, sr., Connell
LB — Zach Umemoto, sr., Kamiakin
LB — Drew Oord, sr., Kamiakin
LB — Jordan Downing, sr., Chiawana
LB — Shaun Smith, Kennewick
DB — Brock Schuh, sr., Kennewick
DB — James Swinyard, sr., Kamiakin
DB — Miquiyah Zamora, sr., Chiawana
DB — C.J. Edrington, sr., Chiawana
P — Chris Haueter, sr., Southridge
QB | Ryan Fassler, jr., Prosser
RB | Bobby Adams, sr., Hermiston
RB | Caleb Garza, sr., Othello
RB | Isaac Anderson, sr., Prosser
WR | Danny Raap, jr., Prosser
WR | Kade Eppich, sr., Connell
OL | Enzo Hurtado, sr., Prosser
OL | Anthony Otero, sr., Othello
OL | Kayden Maughn, soph., Chiawana
OL | Nate Brandhorst, sr., Kamiakin
OL | Cole Vanderbilt, sr., Connell
DL | Rudolfo Cruz, sr., Prosser
DL | Jarrett Snowhite, sr., Richland
DL | Tyson Mollotte, sr., Othello
DL | Jarrett Wolf, sr., Richland
LB | Ethan Whitby, sr., Richland
LB | Sawyer Powell, sr., Richland
LB | Chandler Salisbury, sr., Connell
LB | Alex Weber, soph., Chiawana
DB | Elijah Gardaya, sr., Richland
DB | Juston Lind, jr., Othello
DB | Joey Contreras, jr., Sunnyside
DB | Corey McLain, sr., Kamiakin
All Purpose | Chris Haueter, sr., Southridge
PK | Q Taychack, sr., Richland
KR | Miquiyah Zamorah, sr., Chiawana
Punt | Damien De La Rosa, jr., Royal
QB | Zach Bartlow, sr., Waits.-Prescott
RB | B.K. Robinson, sr., Richland
RB | Dalton Morgan, sr., Kiona-Benton
WR | Paul Hamada, sr., Southridge
WR | Nathan Roberts, sr., Columb.-Burbank
TE | Brady Dixon, jr., Royal
OL | Garrett Wilz, sr., Kennewick
OL | Matt Shute, sr., Touchet
OL | Cadman Donovan, sr., Waits.-Prescott
OL | Nolan Saam, sr., Prosser
OL | Matt Zimmerman, sr., DeSales
OL | Sean Clausen, sr., Kamiakin
DL | Kroft Sunderland, sr., Dayton
DL | Jake Sullins, sr., Kennewick
DL | Yurik Tyutyunnik, sr., River View
DL | Ivan Diaz, sr., Kennewick
LB | Dustin Wooderchak, sr., Waits.-Prescott
LB | Jared Sabin, sr., Wahluke
LB | Joey Hurtado, sr., Prosser
LB | T.J. Fields, sr., Kennewick
DB | Tyler Morris, jr., Liberty-Christian
DB | Alex Myrick, jr., Royal
DB | Eric Hines, sr., Touchet
DB | Matt Hadley, sr., Connell
All Purpose | Zach Simpkins, sr., Liberty Christian
AP | Dalton Estes, sr., Waits.-Prescott
PK/P | Isaac Mitz, soph. Chiawana
KR | Moe Handcox, sr., Walla Walla