A trio of football players started with one goal in mind: to continue the dream of playing football competitively. They ended with much more.
Semi-professional football players Justin Bronn, Terry Toland and Troy Stevenson became the best of friends through their time playing football. That friendship was recognized when the trio was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Nov. 2.
It came as a bit of a surprise to the three that they were going to be inducted at the same time, since Stevenson, 46, only retired this season.
"I think they wanted to put us all in together," Stevenson said. "It was a great honor to be even nominated. It was unexpected. There was talk about it, but you never know until it happens."
Stevenson started his career in 1995 as a tight end and was known for his spectacular catches, despite the fact he wasn't as fast as other players. The most memorable of which came in the final minutes of a game against the Pierce County Bengals, a team he had never beaten. The score was tied 7-7 and there was five minutes remaining in the game.
"I caught the ball in the middle of the field and ran the safety over to get into the end zone and win the game," Stevenson said. "It was an impressive time. It was exciting to catch a game-winner."
Stevenson eventually moved to left tackle in 2000 and played another 13 years. He finally decided to hang up the pads in 2013.
"It was starting to get hard," Stevenson said on his decision to retire. "I wasn't healing as quick. One morning I woke up and couldn't walk very well after a hard-fought game."
Stevenson was into flag football and played in various tournaments around the state, but when he heard there were tryouts for semi-professional football in 1995, he tried out and never turned back until he retired.
"When the season starts to roll around this year, I don't know what I'll do," Stevenson said. "I know I'll miss being with the guys."
For Bronn and Toland, leaving the game of football was an easier transition, because they went straight into coaching.
"I still get the ability to get involved," Toland said. "Eventually that will go away and I'll miss the camaraderie."
Toland, 46, is an offensive line coach for the Bellingham Bulldogs. After a promising high-school career, Toland's stint at Walla Walla Community College ended with disappointment.
"I didn't commit fully to being a college student," Toland said. "I didn't concentrate on the things I should have and it cost me my football career."
One of the coaches in the semi-professional league recognized Toland at the Bellingham Athletic Club and asked him to join the staff. Toland did and like Stevenson said his friendship with the guys was the greatest thing he gained from it.
Toland is now passing on the wisdom gained from his time playing football to his wife, Vennesa, and son, Kellan.
"They are very forgiving for the time I had to spend away from them," Toland said. "I'm thankful for that. They are very supportive."
The honor of being inducted is an achievement for Toland, who played from 1997-2002 and then one game in 2010.
"I started my second career in football at 30 years old," Toland said. "I got another chance to play, even though it was short. It was an amazing opportunity."
Bronn, 39, took his knowledge of the game and started coaching outside of semi-professional football. Bronn is a teacher and coach for Nooksack Valley High School, and also coaches for the Bellingham Bulldogs.
He started his career in 1995 as a left tackle and eventually moved to guard in 2001, before he retired in 2010.
"It was such an honor to be recognized by people I played against," Bronn said about his induction. "All those years, you don't play for the award, you play for the love of the game."
Bronn was a journeyman during his time, playing for five different teams, and built up a reputation on filling in for whatever team needed him.
"I'd always made it a goal to stay between myself and the guy I was blocking no matter how awkward a position I got myself into," Bronn said.
The hardest part of retiring for Bronn was not putting the pads back on, which is evident as he speaks about the game with a competitive fire in his eyes. The best part is he now has more time to spend with his family; playing football didn't allow him to keep balance in his life, he said.
"It's like anything in life," Bronn said. "If you find something you really want to do, you're going to find ways to do it."
His wife, Joy, often traveled to games with him and even ran the chains. He also has a 3-year-old girl, Holly.
"My favorite picture was holding my baby girl after a game with the sweat dripping down my face," Bronn said.
What started as a journey to keep the pads on as long as possible entrenched the sport in the trio's lives, but they don't regret a minute of it.