By Jeremy McDonald
MILL CITY, Ore.– Leaders and Captains find ways to get it done to help their team have a chance to win.
During the third quarter of February 19’s Tri-River Conference league playoff game against Kennedy, Santiam’s Colin Thurston’s shoulder dislocated.
It was the first of two dislocation’s the Wolverine Senior suffered in that game, and both time Thurston found ways to keep playing.
“It was extremely important to me because I know that it’s the same feeling that each one of the other seniors had to face. They showed how to overcome adversity and helped me through in the middle of that game,” said Thurston. “I wanted to show them that I was determined to compete for them, even though my injury.”
It was just the guy who Thurston is. Someone who go to Hell and back with his team.
At the start of his sophomore year of High School, former Head Coach Dustin McGee had tap Thurston as Starting Quarterback of Santiam’s football team. Instilling confidence in a player who was the fourth-string Wide Receiver on Varsity the year before as a freshman.
“Coach McGee spoke to me a lot during the year,” said Thurston. “He said that he trusted me and continued to encourage me throughout the year. He believed that I could do what I needed to do, even when I didn’t think I could. Something that I hoped to emulate as a leader.”
Santiam, who went 7-4 overall and 1-3 in league Thurston’s freshman year, went on an incredible run that capped by an improbable win over then number-one St. Paul on a last second Field Goal to win 23-22 over the Buckaroos to book their first of two-straight trips to the 2A State Title Game.
“That game taught me a lot about what it takes to be a leader. Coming into the game, we knew that we weren’t supposed to win. Out of all of the sports analysts covering the game, none of them voted for us to win,” said Thurston of the St. Paul game. “We had players in our locker room that took that to heart and played with a burning passion for success. Looking at that team we had, there was so much of that grit that I talked about against Coquille. Even better, and something that I believe is crucial to being a good leader, is those guys got every person in that room to develop that same level of passion and grit.
“Being able to instill a drive in each player, to me, is one of the biggest things that game and that team taught me.”
Thurston was the quarterback on that drive. Connecting with Jordan Lanham on a big completion leading up to the game-winning field goal as that game and the two State Championship games his sophomore and Junior years helped the Santiam Senior entering his final year looking for more.
“Those three games definitely opened my eyes a ton. I realized that one of the biggest challenges of being a leader for a team is battling contentment. Coach Carl Rupp told us that everyday the goal was to get one-percent better, no matter what. It didn’t matter what we got better in, just as long as we did,” said Thurston.
“This last football season was hard for sure. I realized, more than ever, how important it is to be a mentor on and off the field, especially for all the young guys. Physically I wasn’t able to help out much, but I wanted to teach them all that I learned over the years. Ezra Downey was one of those guys that I wanted to help the most, because I knew what it was like to be playing big games like that early in high school, it’s hard. He was great about listening, but I think it was due to respect and the relationship that we had, which is also important to being a leader.”
Downey was thrusted into the starting job a few plays into Santiam’s September 20 game at home. Thurston was taken to the ground hard to grassy surface of the Santiam home field. Doctors told him he’ll need surgery immediately and the timetable was bleak for his Senior Sports hopes. Six months of recovery from that September 20 game at home would put Thurston’s return towards the midway through the baseball season.
If he got cleared.
But the weird thing about the higher powers that might be involving Sports…if there’s a will, there’s a way.
“For me personally, I didn’t think I was going to play any sport after that first week I got injured,” said Thurston. “It wasn’t until at least 3-4 weeks after that Kennedy game that I met my surgeon to go over my MRI reports, where I told him how much I wanted to get back to playing, especially basketball. He pretty much told me that I couldn’t hurt myself any worse than I did and he’d clear me to play.”
It was a gift bestowed to him that he took full advantage of once basketball season came around. But in the meantime, for the rest of the football season, Thurston was molding his successor at Quarterback in Downey.
Preparing the freshman and building his confidence up for the rest of the season and beyond and helping out his teammates from the sidelines during Game Day as an extra set of eyes for the coaches.
“With Ezra, I tried to help him out just like McGee was for me. I kept telling him that he was supposed to be in that situation and everybody knew that he could handle it,” said Thurston. “I wanted him to know that I didn’t matter whether it was football related or not, I believed he was able to accomplish anything.
“As for football related stuff with Ezra, my main focus was to develop a good foundation and work ethic, because I know he has the talent to be something special. We worked a lot with the little things like footwork, hand placement, different read progressions, etc.”
Downey helped Santiam wheel off two-straight wins, against Gervais and Culver, before the Wolverines fell in the first round of the 2A playoffs.
When basketball came around, Thurston wore a black shoulder harness to keep his shoulder in place during practice and games. It wrapped around his left shoulder like brace would around your wrist when you have carpal tunnel issues.
Santiam was coming off a tough sixth-place finish the year before as they started hot. The Wolverines started off 11-2 to start the year and their third loss, to 2A power Western Christian, Santiam held an 11-point fourth quarter lead and nearly handed the Pioneers their first League loss in 37 games at that point in the season.
Tragedy struck when the injury bug bit again for Santiam when Hunter Reeser went out at Sheridan with an ankle injury. Aiden Aerni was returning from injury while Kobe Dyer and Thurston each were dealing with injuries from football as they limped into the league playoffs.
They bounced back however. As banged up as they were, the Band of Brothers that were the Seniors rallied together.
When Thurston dislocated his shoulder twice in the league playoffs against the Trojans, he could’ve sulked and called it a day in the 63-56 win, but he had other plans as he wasn’t going down without a fight.
“I felt as if I had every reason to give up and sit the rest of the game out. However, I didn’t want to let these guys down, because I knew what they did for me,” said Thurston. “I wanted to leave it all out there on the court, and not even my shoulder was going to stop me.”
They came within a Downey free throw to force overtime against the Pioneers for the number-one seed out of league. Thurston and the Wolverines won their road trip to Lost River to get to Pendleton for one last ride as Seniors.
They wanted to go out on their own terms, and yes, they drew the tough challenge with Western Christian once more, falling to the Pios in the Elite 8 opener in Pendleton. Thurston scored 20 points in the consolation semi-finals against Coquille to help lift the Wolverines to the consolation finals the next day.
The Band of Brothers came together that day and completed the mission left unfinished from the year before as they left on their own terms with a decisive 60-43 win over Oakland to claim the fourth-place trophy that Saturday morning on March 7.
But the biggest thing that sticks out as Thurston wrapped up his High School playing career a few weeks ago, was a old friend coming down to support him and the other Seniors for one last game:
“He drove down to watch us play one last time in that state tournament, and that last night, we hung out as a group again, just like old times,” said Thurston. “We went through starting lineups and each one of the seniors hugged Khobe as we made our way through the fans down on the court.
“We all had on our senior t-shirts. It felt like all the years just formed into one happy memory right there. At the end of the game when Hunter held up the fourth-place trophy, it felt like we won the state championship game.”