Story by Coach Demian Walter; Eastside Analyst for NWPR
In July of 2017, I was only a few weeks into my new position as Eastern Washington Football Analyst for Northwest Prep Report. It was my first time ever venturing into the world of writing articles. I am not a journalist, nor am I a reporter, I am just a regular middle-aged guy who in 2017 had been retired one year from coaching high school football. I was looking to offer my football knowledge to help Dirk Knudsen, the founder of the Northwest Prep Report. So, I reached out to Dirk and he said, “you just take the Eastern side of Washington State and have fun with it. Get out there and meet people and players.”
So, after a few weeks on the job, I decided to make a Top 5 List for Eastern Washington at Each Position. In preparing my first ever “List”, I had to scour the internet to find the alleged best players on the east side of our state. I searched many newspaper sites, searched some national recruiting sites and other avenues. Of course, I came across some obvious choices to put on my list, you know the guys who were getting recruited by the Pac 12 schools and Mountain West Conference and Big Sky Conference schools. Those guys were not hard to find, and they were obvious choices. But I had to put in some work to find the talented players who were not on any national recruiting radars or didn’t have any scholarship offers to mention on twitter. One name I came across in my extensive search was a player from West Valley High School in Spokane, WA. That kid’s name was Collin Sather. What a gift it was to discover this kid. What transpired after that discovery is a major roller coaster of emotions, but what an honor I was given to know Collin in the very short time I did and what an impact he leaves on so many people in this world.
In the article of my Top 5 list, I mentioned at the end of the article that if any of the players wanted to be considered for me to write an article on them that they could email me, and we could see if we could set something up to do an article if it worked out. A few days after my Top 5 list had been published, I received an email from Collin Sather. I remembered that name because I evaluated him for my list and he earned a spot on that list, so I remembered the name right away. He reached out to me to see if I would be interested in doing an article on him. I said, “absolutely, I will drive to Spokane in early August and we can meet up for 45 minutes or so”. In preparation for my meeting, I reviewed Collins junior season highlight film and what I saw on film, again, was a player who played with this real raw desire and passion that you don’t see all the time but when you do come across it you know it when you see it. He also demonstrated big-time playmaking ability and speed that was evident. His toughness also really stood out to me. He had one play where he basically carried the entire opposing teams’ defense on his shoulders and would not go down, they couldn’t tackle him until he got into the endzone for a TD. It was one of the most incredible individual plays I saw that summer. So, as I drove from Yakima to Spokane, I was now excited to meet Collin just to make sure his character was as good as his football ability. Because I really believe an athlete of high character is important. I know it’s not always necessary, but I do truly look for that in an athlete.
Collin and I met in August of 2017 at West Valley High School for about 45 minutes. We met face to face. Just talking about a variety of subjects. For a 17-year-old kid to meet in person with a strange adult and talk to that stranger about a serious subject is not an easy thing for a teenager to do and can be very awkward and uncomfortable. My time with Collin was perfect. He was so authentic, he was so relaxed, he wasn’t nervous at all, he was confident in himself but not even remotely arrogant. He was polite. He was well spoken.
One thing that impressed me so much during that meeting was a comment Collin said to me when I asked him about recruiting, he said “I don’t care at all about recruiting hype and offers or any of that stuff, all I care about is winning games my senior season, going deep into the State Playoffs and being a good teammate and being coachable. I truly know that if I focus on those things all that recruiting stuff for college will take care of itself and work itself out the way it is supposed to.”
Wow! Are you kidding me! In an age where most high school players and their parents are solely focused on getting college scholarships and are solely focused on the hype and love, they can receive from the world of college recruiting it was so refreshing to hear that statement from a 17-year-old. I couldn’t believe it. And he did not say what he said because he didn’t have the game to warrant college football being a reality, he absolutely had the chops to be a college football player, but he simply wasn’t worried about that process he had his priorities firmly in order. I will never forget that.
I drove away from that meeting and got on the highway to head back home to Yakima and I thought to myself, “I really want it to work out for Collin. I just want him to get a chance to play college football somewhere because I think we just uncovered a true hidden gem who is going to make a college football staff so thankful that they were the one who got his commitment from him because they took a chance on Collin.” I literally felt he was the most hidden gem in the state of Washington. I thought to myself that day that Collin reminded me of a smaller version of Cooper Kupp (formerly of A.C. Davis HS in Yakima, WA. and Eastern Washington University and now with the Los Angeles Rams) when Cooper was in high school. Collin just needed to go have a great senior season and win games and then I firmly believed the right college coach would find him and he would be in the right situation to play college football and really help a college program.
His senior season began, and I followed Collin and his West Valley team from afar. I texted with Collin throughout the season just to stay in touch with him and congratulate him at times and to wish him luck in big games. I would also ask him how the recruiting process was coming along. Every time I would ask that question about recruiting Collin would text back saying “nothing yet, but I am not even worried about that I am just focusing on winning games. The recruiting stuff will take care of itself.” I still love that response.
Collin and his West Valley team had a memorable season in 2017 during Collins senior year. They finished the regular season undefeated and then won two playoff games to advance all the way to the Semifinals of the Washington State Playoffs where they lost a high scoring affair to the eventual State Champions from Hockinson High School. That was an incredible season and Collin was one of the best players in the state.
He produced big-time numbers, with 77 catches for 1,425 yards and 11 TD’s and he helped his team win many football games just like he said would.
Now Collin’s high school career was over, and the winter season was upon him and as we all know that is when the recruiting season starts to make the final push to the February National Letter of Intent signing day. I stayed in touch with Collin over the next month and a half after his season ended. We would talk about recruiting a little bit, I was hearing from some college coaches who were asking me if I had any names of players who were uncommitted who I could recommend for them to evaluate. Collin’s name was always one of the first names I would give to the college coaches. There was some interest now developing for Collin to play at the next level. It was starting to look like something was going to work out for Collin. I believed like him the right fight was going to materialize itself and Collin would get a chance to play college football. But I have to admit I was getting a little bit worried because it was getting kind of late into the month of January and I was just hoping that the Big Sky Conference Division 1 FCS schools or the Division 2 schools weren’t going to blow a golden opportunity to get a commitment from the most hidden gem in the state of Washington. I truly believed that was the level that Collin belonged at. But it was getting kind of late.
Then it happened! The right fit materialize. The right staff took a chance. The University of Idaho was the school. The Idaho Vandals are a Division 1 FCS program and they are big time legit. It was an incredible opportunity for Collin. I was so happy for Collin and so proud of him. He was finally being rewarded for his grind. He was being given an opportunity to play Division 1 football which is very rare and very few high school players in any given year are granted that special opportunity. Not only was it a great football opportunity but Collin would also be attending the University of Idaho and playing on the football team with one of his very best friends from high school in teammate Connor Whitney. What a great way to transition into this next phase of life for Collin. When Collin texted me to tell me the news, I knew at that very moment he was going to be one of those players that would go to college and outwork everybody at his position, perform well when given his opportunities and impact a college football program in a very positive way. I was so proud of him. Collin redshirted this last fall during his freshman season. Which was perfect. He was going to be right on track to have 4 more years of college football left in the next 4 years. Collin was right where he needed to be as far as his future is concerned.
One day in mid-February, I was scrolling through twitter for the umpteenth time that day and I came across a tweet that absolutely rocked me to my core and broke my heart. I saw a tweet from the University of Idaho twitter account that said: “Collin Sather, a freshman football player has Cancer.” I simply could not believe what I just read. I would have never expected to see something like that on twitter regarding someone I was close to. I was devastated. I began praying. I reached out to West Valley HS Head Coach Craig Whitney. Coach filled me in about what was happening. Collin was in a Spokane hospital receiving treatment for advanced renal cancer. I believed Collin was going to be alright and that he would get through this and fight it off cancer. But he just wasn’t really given a fair chance.
On February 26, 2019, I was informed that Collin Sather had passed away early that morning in the middle of the night.
This tragic news spread so fast. It was reported on ESPN, it was reported on many news outlets throughout Washington and Idaho. Many of the athletic departments throughout the Big Sky Conference posted on Twitter their condolences to Collin and his family. I was very sad myself. I couldn’t wrap my head around why this happened to Collin or his family. I only knew Collin very briefly, but he left a major impact on me and he was someone I felt a connection to for a variety of reasons. He was someone I believed in. He was someone who had so much going for him and you just had a feeling he was going to live a life full of success and joy. I was hurting, for Collin, for his family, for his friends, for those who were close to him. I wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what I could do since I didn’t live in Spokane.
As the next few days went by, I started to receive some random messages through social media. I was learning how much Collin meant to so many people. He was someone who inspired others, who made the lives of others better. He was someone who so many people loved and respected. I decided to write an article about Collin as a tribute to his life. I reached out to a few people who are close to Collin to see if they would share their thoughts on what Collin meant to them.
“My son loved life, he loved people, he loved seeing the best in everyone, and he loved doing what he could to help others see the best in life and the best in themselves. He found the most joy in helping others find joy. When he was in his worst pain in the hospital, he told me “Mom, I just want to be normal again. I just want to be a normal 18-year-old doing what I love.” He wanted to be playing football again, and he wanted to be making others smile and laugh again”. By Treena Sather-Head, Collin’s mother.
“We should all try and live life like Collin did. He was always finding a way to make someone smile and make their day just a little better.” By Connor Whitney (University of Idaho Vandals football player), classmate and teammate at West Valley High School and University of Idaho.
“Collin was the definition of a true competitor. He was always trying to win in something, video games, three-point shooting challenges, races, you name it and Collin wanted to win it. Collin showed me that no matter how hard the obstacle, it’s not that you will get through it, but you must get through it. His friendship meant a lot to me and him passing was heartbreaking and devastating but seeing how much he fought to the very end was truly astonishing. I want to work my ass off now more than ever to honor him and my grandfather out there on the field. He’s gone but never forgotten and I know he will be with me and so many others including his teammates at the University of Idaho, blessing us along the journey of our colligate careers.” By Devin Culp (University of Washington Huskies football player), a longtime childhood friend and athletic teammate.
“Collin always had a big smile on his face, and it warmed my heart. So many amazing memories that I have that will keep his memory alive. My son Devin and Collin were very close and to have that time with Collin at the end truly allowed Devin to have closure. That moment in the hospital when Collin opened his eyes and saw Devin, Collin had a smile that lit up the room. Devin held his hand and sat with him for hours not wanting to leave his friend’s side. I remind Devin that Collin is in his heart and every day he will be watching over you. Collin will forever be his brother. Collin didn’t deserve cancer at such a young age and did not have time to accomplish his dreams as we should all be able to do. Collin was an amazing son, brother, friend and ATHLETE. There truly was no one more deserving of the blessing of playing college football. His hard work and dedication never stopped. I can remember sitting with him and his dad and discussing the recruiting process and telling him to just keep pushing, his moment was going to come. The University of Idaho was the right choice for him. The love and support they gave Collin and his family truly made that clear. Collin’s dreams will be played out in the Kibbie Dome and Husky Stadium this next season! So many who are now DOING IT FOR COLLIN. #SatherStrong”. By Pia Culp (mother of Devin Culp), a longtime friend of Collin and his family.
“This is a tough one, as Collin was one of my sons’ best friends. He has spent over one hundred nights at my house with Connor and their buddies. He was a fantastic kid who had a dynamic personality, he was goofy at times and never turned down a dare (within reason) from his buddies. He was a fantastic football and basketball player for us at West Valley High School and was on track to earn playing time at the University of Idaho as a wide receiver. He was progressing nicely, and I could see him progressing into a fantastic player for the Vandals. He was liked well by his teammates as he added that personality to the locker room that was necessary to keep everyone grounded. At West Valley, he was our playmaker in football. He helped lead us to the State quarterfinals as a junior and the State semifinals as a senior. His stats for his junior year were 70 receptions for 1214 yards and 13 touchdowns, his senior year stats were 77 catches for 1425 yards and 11 touchdowns. If we needed a play, we went to Collin. We were at our best with the ball in Collin’s hands and our best blockers out in front of him. Simply put, we will miss our #18!” By Craig Whitney, Head Coach of West Valley High School (Spokane) Football Team.
These comments really move my emotions. I truly thank those who took time to offer comments for this article. Collin was a special young man who meant so much to so many people. He brought joy to so many people. He was someone people and teams could lean on, he was someone who could produce his best when his best was needed. He was someone who could overcome and make the most of his opportunities. For me, even though Collin is gone way to soon to see all of his dreams come to fruition, because he just ran out of time, I truly believe in my heart that Collin would have done just as Coach Whitney said, he would have been someone who would have contributed on the field and been a key player for the University of Idaho. I also believe that just as likely was his football success going to come to fruition, I also believe Collin was going to be a great employee in whatever line of work he ended up in, I believe Collin was going to be a great father and husband as well. Collin was just one of those guys who had it all. He checked off all the boxes for what it takes to make it in this game of life.
My heart goes out to Collins mother and father and all his family members. Just know that your son made the most of his life while he had his time here. He made other peoples lives better just for knowing him while he was here. It still doesn’t make sense, at all, but we here at Northwest Prep Report just want to share our condolences and prayers to the Sather family and we want to share and amplify Collins life and memory. #SatherStrong
I want to personally extend our heartfelt prayers and condolences to Collin’s family and community.
I also want to thank Coach Demian Walter for this story. This took a long time and a lot of heart to write.
I want to also remember West Valley stud Jace Malek who also died of cancer and who also went from West Valley to the University of Idaho. I wrote his story almost 3 years ago exactly. The two boys must be in heaven together watching over all of us- especially their loved ones and their friends. Here is my story on Jace Malek!
The two boys died three years apart- both from the same High School and both went to the same college. Cancer took them both. Both of them lived and went to school very close to the swift and beautiful Spokane River. These stories and their loss-their deaths at a young age- remind us all that life is short. To have lived such a short time and to have left such a lasting impression on the world speaks volumes to the men they were and the potential they had. That is why it hurts all the worse.
I learned about Cancer personally recently and while I am on the mend, it has me thinking about how many more days I have. Tonight I am going to make plans to do more and to help more. We all should. We all need to. We need to be the that “good deed” that Willie Wonka talks about – “And so shines a good deed in a weary world”. The world is weary and it is young people like this that shine and show us what we must do and how we need to live to fix it!
In the Movie, A River Runs Through It, there are many lessons and great quotes. The best of them is this;
“Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”
Collin Sather and Jace Malek will forever have their names under those rocks. They are with us. Their memories must never fade.
God Bless Us All