Robert Comstock III was the bad kid in class. As a sixth-grader at Quilcene School, his priorities weren’t always on lessons or homework.
“I was a short little fat kid with long hair,” Comstock said.
Byron Wilson didn’t care. Now 71, the longtime football coach put his arm around the student six years ago and encouraged him to get involved. Comstock said he needed to be somewhere that night, and Wilson shut him down.
“Come with us,” Comstock said Wilson told him that day. “If I have to, I’ll give you a ride home myself.”
It was a change in direction for Comstock, a moment of trust that started the process of self-confidence, and a sense of belonging with a football family he didn’t know he had.
The Quilcene Rangers have matured under the happy-go-lucky Wilson, the team’s defensive coordinator with the big belly the players love to pat, and the watchful eyes of head coach and offensive coordinator Trey Beathard, who moved five years ago to Brinnon from Texas, where he coached football and AAU basketball.
This season of eight-man Class 1B football is complete — the Rangers went 11-1, reached the state semifinals for just the second time in school history and surprised many people along the way.
“We blew everyone’s minds just to get that far,” said Comstock, now a 6-foot-5 senior athlete who catches passes as a tight end and was an all-state honorable mention last year as a defensive lineman. “And then it blew my mind when we came back from 22 down against Sunnyside Christian. Everyone looked at the scoreboard and they said, ‘Their season’s over. They’re not coming back.’”
In fact, they did. The Rangers beat Sunnyside Christian 54-50 in their third state-tournament appearance in the past five years.
It’s an atmosphere that’s been transformed since Wilson arrived from Hazen High School in Renton, and Beathard moved north to a cabin he bought 18 years ago in an area near his in-laws.
Beathard interviewed for a physical education job one day with former Quilcene Principal Gary Stebbins. Beathard and his wife both were nearing retirement age as they worked school administration roles in Texas.
Once he got the job at Quilcene, Beathard was asked if he was interested in coaching football. Stebbins put a man on the phone to speak to Beathard, and the latter almost instantly recognized the man’s voice.
“It probably took me two or three words,” Beathard said.
It was Wilson, who happened to coach Beathard at Service High School in Anchorage, Alaska, where Wilson’s Cougars won the state invitational championship in 1994 and reached the semifinals in each of the next two years.
Wilson accepted the head coaching job at Quilcene six years ago, and Beathard joined him as an assistant a year later. Their roles reversed after the first two years together.
“I think he was just being nice to me,” Beathard said. “It’s important to Byron that he leaves a program in good hands. He’s always worried about who’s going to be coaching these young kids who are coming up.”
Wilson loves to talk. He’s been coaching high school football for 49 years, and he will celebrate his 50-year wedding anniversary next March. He and his wife, a blind golfer who plays in top tournaments, live at the Port Ludlow Golf Course.
Wilson didn’t recall the specific conversation with Comstock and his promise to drive him home, but that’s because it’s not an isolated situation; Wilson makes a point to get involved in students’ lives.
“I talk to every kid,” he said. “Every boy — and girl, my wife reminds me — who can chew gum.”
In Comstock’s case, Wilson recalled how he wanted to bring him into the fold.
“He was a little renegade,” Wilson said. “He had a pony tail and everything. I talked to him one day and said, ‘Why don’t you be my ball boy?’ ”
Beathard laughed as he relived the story.
“Coach Wilson is like that. He likes the kids, and they’re crazy about Byron,” Beathard said. “He’s kind of a kid magnet.”
Building a program
Beathard had a son who was a sophomore when he first took the Rangers’ football job. His middle son is a strength and conditioning coach at a high school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and that son also writes weightlifting programs for the players at Quilcene.
That was a requirement to play football — the weight room. The Rangers lift three days per week and also participate in a summer camp. This past year, Quilcene took Comstock and senior Olin Reynolds to a camp at Western Oregon with more than 400 other players, and Comstock was in the top 10 at defensive line.
The players enjoy the atmosphere, too.
“Everybody brings their own thing,” senior Ben Bruner said. “Everybody has something to say before a game.”
Sometimes it’s just music. Junior offensive lineman Max Redmon has been known to roll a large speaker on wheels like a suitcase — almost like a boom box from the 1990s — to get the Rangers going.
The only problem was, it got too loud one day. One of the elementary teachers heard it through their classroom and asked Redmon to turn it down.
As for the atmosphere, the players bought in. They were given travel bags. They practiced hard and lifted weights harder. They were treated like family.
In terms of program success, Quilcene’s only other state semifinal appearance was in 1977. The Rangers reached the first round of the state tournament in 1984. Then there was nothing spectacular until Wilson and Beathard arrived on the scene. The Rangers made the first round in 2014 and went back the following year, when they won a state game for the first time in school history.
The Quilcene players said they knew this year was special after their 48-22 win at Neah Bay, a perennial eight-man football power west of the Cascades.
“They had pretty good players, and we just outplayed them,” Bruner said.
But even as Quilcene’s undefeated season continued, they didn’t get everyone’s respect.
“There were teams with two losses that were ranked ahead of us (in the state),” said Reynolds, a running back and defensive back. “We knew. We looked a couple of times.”
When they got to Wenatchee on Nov. 24 to play top-ranked Odessa in the state semifinals, they heard from players from both Odessa and Naselle that they didn’t expect Quilcene to be there.
But the townspeople loved it, and they traveled to support the Rangers. So much so that the line to see Santa Claus at the annual Quilcene Craft Fair that weekend at the Quilcene Community Center was nearly non-existent.
“If I wasn’t here, I’d be there (in Wenatchee),” Santa told The Leader on Nov. 24.
Wilson said that type of support is part of what makes Quilcene special.
“I’ve never seen the principal, the superintendent and the athletic director all there at the same time,” he said. “And the teachers were there wearing their (spirit) gear to promote the program.”
Future is bright
Players like Comstock, Reynolds and Bruner may be graduating, but the Rangers have a lot to look forward to next season, too. All-Sea-Tac League quarterback Holdem Elkins is a junior captain who will return along with three Budneks — Zachary, a sophomore lineman; Bishop, a freshman running back and defensive back; and Deakon, a lineman who was on the roster this year as an eighth-grader.
“Coach Wilson and Coach Beathard bring a lot to the table and have shared a lot of knowledge,” Reynolds said.
Beathard credits having “great kids” and “good parents.” He loves Wilson’s ability to connect with younger students to get them interested in team sports.
“As coaches, if we don’t help at all, then why are we doing it?” Beathard asked.
Through all his travels and success in other places, Wilson said he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“If I’d have come out of college to this situation, this is where I would have been,” he said. “This is where I would have stayed.”