Former WSU football players returned from all over the country, the current team came out, and the student body gathered in front of the Cougar statue outside Martin Stadium Friday night to honor WSU QB Tyler Hilinski, who died Tuesday.
PULLMAN – They came from all over, connected by their Coug ties, a brotherly bond and a need to be together and lean on one another for support as they grieved for Washington State quarterback Tyler Hilinski.
Luke Falk flew up from Southern California, where he’s been training for the NFL draft. Cole Madison traveled in from Orlando, Fla. where he’s training for the draft, too. Nate DeRider and Isaac Dotson came from Seattle. Colton Teglovic was there, as were C.J. Dimry and Kirkland Parker. Marcellus Pippins and the Cracraft brothers – River and Skyler – returned. Even former WSU quarterback Peyton Bender, who left WSU in 2015 hoping to win the starting job elsewhere, traveled to Pullman from Lawrence, Kan., where he now plays for the Jayhawks.
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- Talking about wanting to die
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- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
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In the candlelight vigil organized by the ASWSU in front of the Cougar Pride statue outside Martin Stadium, a community came together to honor the memory of Hilinski, 21, who would likely have been the Cougars’ starting quarterback in 2018.
Prior to the 7 p.m. vigil on Friday evening, the former WSU players and their parents, and several current players who were among Hilinski’s closest friends, gathered at the Courtyard Marriott.
Someone had made crimson T-shirts with Hilinski’s number 3 on them and white hats to match, and each of the players received a shirt and a cap as they arrived and exchanged hugs.
Donning their Hilinski gear, the former players and their parents escorted Tyler’s grieving parents, Mark and Kym Hilinski, and his older brother, Kelly, down the hill, up Stadium Way – which had been blocked off to traffic for this somber event – and out toward the soft glow of candles held by the mourners who’d gathered around the Cougar statue in front of Martin Stadium.
More than a thousand people came to pay their final respects to Tyler Hilinski. But the only sounds to be heard on this chilly, still night were sniffles. Even, Harley, a 12-week-old German Shepard puppy standing sadly by its owner, whimpered.
“She’s an emotional support dog,” Harley’s owner later explained. “So she feels emotions.”
The crowd parted as the procession of former players approached, and reunited with all the members of the current WSU football team, who’d come out in force to say goodbye to their quarterback.
WSU head coach Mike Leach, who’d been at his house in Key West, Fla., when he found out about Hilinski’s death, had finally made it back to Pullman on Thursday night after getting held up in Atlanta due to weather-related flight delays. He stood next to his wife, Sharon, in front of his somber group of players, all huddled together for comfort.
Arms around each other, Tyler’s parents slowly circled the Cougar statue, seemingly determined to read every note left there and touch every trinket. They came to a stop in front of the Cougar, and knelt, huddled together in their grief.
Behind them, unorchestrated yet in unison, the players all extended their right arms, and put up three fingers in remembrance of No. 3.
After a time, Kym Hilinski turned, her eyes wet. “Thank you,” she whispered to the crowd, so quietly it was barely discernible.
Then, it was the players’ turn to say goodbye.
Dotson and Hunter Dale knelt in front of the Cougar statue, sniffling. Slowly at first, then in a horde, the rest of the team joined them, each man taking a knee until every WSU football player in attendance – past and present — was gathered in a circle around the Cougar, arms around one another.
Behind them, the WSU community stood silently, grief evident on each person’s face in the glow of the candles they held.
“If you look at every face out there, it’s wonderful,” the mother of one of the players whispered. “So many cared for him. If he only knew.”
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Kirkland Parker, one of Tyler’s two roommates from last season, was the first to stand, and everyone else took their lead from him.
They closed ranks and huddled.
“Family on three,” came the order from deep within the huddle
“One. Two. Three. FAMILY.”
Next came the resounding, methodic thuds of grown men giving each other tight, emotional hugs and comforting thumps on the back through big, padded jackets everyone had worn to ward off the cold.
Dotson and linebackers coach Ken Wilson, who recruited Tyler, shared a hug.
Then, Wilson was by the side of Kelly Hilinski, gently rubbing his back as the young man tried to compose himself.
Fred Mauigoa went down a line, embracing each of the coaches and teammates he encountered. Mason Vinyard followed, prompting several others to do so as well.
Leach enveloped Kym Hilinski in a tight hug, and when they broke away, the coach appeared to be wiping away tears.
Head down, cap pushed down low over his eyes, Falk came ambling up to his head coach and he and Leach shared a long hug, with the tall, lanky quarterback seemingly squeezing all the emotions he was feeling into the moment.
The team filed out soon after – but not before signing the big poster for Hilinski’s family that had been set up on a table in the back.
For the next half hour or so, community members and WSU students took turns going up to the Cougar statue to pay their respects, and then signing the giant poster.
Many left flowers, candles or Cougar memorabilia. There was even a can of beer, and a thoughtfully placed pack of tissues.
Then, it was over.
One by one, the candles went out, and the crowd dispersed, wandering slowly into the night.