At this time next year, Martin Tello, Juan Mendoza and Steven Machuca will be chasing a different kind of prize.
The three senior Wahluke High football players all have enlisted in the Marines and will leave the tiny town of Mattawa, which is 60 miles northwest of the Tri-Cities, to join the military.
“I’m not really a big fan of school and the military would be a great option,” Tello said. “The Marines is big, and I want to be a part of something big — I want to be the best. (I want to) make my family proud of something I do.”
All three will be the first in their families to join the military.
“I’ve always wanted to serve,” Mendoza said. “Through high school, I’ve liked to always challenge myself. So I wanted to go to the Marines to do the toughest one. I wanted the discpline.”
The three are captains for the Warriors and are pals on and off the field. They came to the decision to join up separately, but all plan to report to duty at the same time.
“I kind of thought, ‘Why not me?’ ” Machuca said. “The guys that can’t go to college and stuff, go into the Marines. Or the guys that can’t do a lot with their life — I could do other things, but I thought, ‘Why can’t I go?’ ”
Machuca is a vocal leader, excuding passion and emotion, while Mendoza and Tello lead by example — quietly going about their work.
All three have been instrumental in Wahluke’s 4-1 start, doubling last season’s win total and setting up a key SCAC East game at 7 p.m. Friday at Royal. The winner will be in the driver’s seat for a berth in the district playoffs.
“I think it is a great thing for those guys,” Wahluke football coach Brycen Bye said. “They found through football and weightlifting that they are guys that really appreciate hard work, commitment, dedication, physical work, and that will really translate to them going into the Armed Forces moving forward.”
The trio have definitely put in a lot of work to get the Warriors to where they are today.
Coming off of a two-win season, Wahluke has already doubled that total, and the team plans on pulling an upset against Royal, which lost in the Class 1A state title game last season.
“I’m speechless,” Mendoza said of the season so far. “I’m really satisfied with it. We’ve worked hard and gained from what we worked hard for.”
It’s believed that this is the first time Wahluke and Royal have faced each other when the Warriors have a better record than the Knights.
“Within our school and community, every game as we’ve gone forward it’s a little bit more, a little bit more,” Bye said of the excitement building in the town. “If we can be successful against Royal, that buzz is really going to jump start. That is our plan to beat them.”
Whatever happens, though, for three of the Warriors they already have something to look forward to.
All three said they are excited to see the world, something that hasn’t been possible so far. Machuca’s dream is to go to Australia, while Tello and Mendoza said they have no preference.
They even admitted to being a bit afraid of what lies ahead, as they aren’t sure what to expect.
“My mom was scared when I told her,” Tello said. “She didn’t know I was going to do that, but she said she’ll support me and be behind me.”
As will an entire community, no matter what happens Friday.