SOUTH JORDAN — When Bingham head football coach Dave Peck called Mahonrai Toki’s name, the senior wept.
When he called on Chandler Wahlstrom, the linebacker couldn’t speak.
Vaka Vehikite was simply shocked that his coach would trust him that much.
“I thought, ‘He must love us to death to let us take his (state championship) ring home, and let us do whatever we want with it,” said Vehikite. “It just shows how much Coach Peck really loves this team, how much he trusts this team.”
Peck is one of the few coaches who will admit to discussing on a daily basis the dream nurtured by most high school athletes — winning a state title.
“A lot of coaches will say, ‘Take it one week at a time,’ and to a point, that’s great,” Peck said. “But you have to have that ultimate goal in mind. It gives you something to strive for. Our goal was to get ready to play in the state championship game every week, to be the best team in the state every week.”
Instead of banning talk about state championships, Peck encourages it.
But as he talked with his players throughout the grind of spring weightlifting and the monotony of summer conditioning, he realized that a state title might be one of those things one had to experience to understand.
It was in trying to find a way to help his players understand the special joy of a state title that he decided to do something that shocked his players.
“Every week I give a different person my 2006 state championship ring,” Peck said. “I tell them that other than my kids, it’s my most precious item. ... I think it became a trust issue, as well. Some of them wore it all week. Some of them kept it at home in a trophy case. But they all got up when I gave it to them and said what it would mean to them to be a state champion.”
When Vehikite saw the young men Peck was entrusting the ring to, he thought the honor would never be his.
“He even said, ‘I never thought I’d give this kid my ring, but he deserves it,'” Vehikite recalled. The senior linebacker said he didn’t feel worthy to wear it, so he kept it in its case at home.
“I didn't feel worthy to wear it because I’m not a state champion myself,” he said, adding that he felt different just having the ring in his possession. “You feel like you have to step it up a notch because Coach Peck is a state champion coach, so you have to play like a state champion.”
Toki, a 17-year-old defensive end, said he broke down when his coach asked him what inspired him.
“I started bawling,” he said. “He asked me what drove me, and I told him it was my mom.”
Toki’s father has been hospitalized for two months with Crohn’s disease, and his mother, Sela, has had the responsibility of caring for her seven children alone.
“She’s really strong,” he said.
He didn’t plan to wear the ring much, but changed his mind once it was entrusted to him.
“I ended up wearing it every day,” he said smiling. “Just because it was awesome.” Most of the boys said they felt different with the ring in their possession. Nick Heninger, a senior outside linebacker, was the first to be trusted with it.
“You have to know what you’re working for every week,” he said. “And it’s a state championship that we’re working for.”
Heninger said he told his teammates that he loved and trusted them, and that he’d like to finish their time together as champions. But he admits, he may not be able to say what it means for him to win a state title until the undefeated Miners earn one more win.
“I don’t know how to answer that still,” he said of what it might mean to him to win a state title. “I ended up putting it on my bedside table, and I remember every night before I go to bed, staring at it and just thinking about the season.”
Wahlstrom said he thought it would be awesome to have the ring for a week, but thought it would be an honor reserved for other players.
“When he said my name, I was so surprised,” he said. “I was speechless. I couldn’t even think of words to say.”
He found a few words, and then he kept the ring at home in a safe place.
“I felt like I had to live up to all of the people who’ve won one before us,” he said. “All of those great, inspirational people who set a path for us.”
Like the other boys, he was shocked that Peck would trust the teenagers enough to share the ring.
“I’m not sure if I would be able to do that,” Wahlstrom said.
Inside linebacker coach Everest Matagi was not surprised when Peck started letting the boys take the ring for a week at a time.
“I think when a guy wins championships like Coach Peck has, you want to share it,” said Matagi, who is one of two assistants who has not won a state title. “You want everyone to feel it. I think that’s just how Dave is. You begin with the end in mind, and he wants those kids to see what it looks like.”
Peck gave the ring to Matagi the day before Bingham’s semifinal game. After the Miners won, Matagi showed the players that he’d been wearing it on a cord around his neck.
“I kind of felt like the 2006 team was with us,” Matagi said. “(Peck) has probably lost more opportunities at rings than most people even have a chance to have. He wants these kids to experience that. It’s special, and these kids work hard.”
Heninger said he practiced harder and felt prouder during the week he possessed the ring.
“I thought, ‘This is Coach Peck’s ring, so I have to be exactly like Coach Peck,'” Heninger said smiling. “I can’t make any mistakes this week. It’s one of those things where you think, 'I’m going to do the best I can at everything I do this week.'”
When asked if he better understands what the boys are working for, he shakes his head.
“I don’t think I’ll understand until I have one.”
Twitter: adonsports Email: email@example.com
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company