Hockinson assistant coach chases NFL dream

Plinke mixes in pro tryouts with work for Hockinson

By Andy Buhler, Columbian staff writer

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HOCKINSON — The Hockinson football team is days away from the biggest game in program history.

But for assistant coach Hayden Plinke, helping the Hawks to their first state championship is not the only thing he’s chasing.

The first-year volunteer tight ends coach is actively pursuing an NFL career.

This season he’s helped develop Hockinson’s dynamic passing game working with the tight ends. Perhaps more importantly, he’s served as an emotional leader, often delivering impassioned speeches and pumping players up.

After stops at Boise State and Portland State, Plinke played at University of Texas-El Paso where he received honorable mention on the All-Conference USA team.

Plinke attended the NFL Combine but went undrafted in this year’s NFL Draft. He went to the Seahawks’ Rookie Mini-Camp in May.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein describes him as having a “good build with well-proportioned frame. … heavily targeted … able to work in-line, from the slot and as a move tight end. … plays big over the middle and can handle punishing hits and can dish them out after the catch. Has some spunk as a blocker.” His weaknesses, the site said, are his hand-eye coordination.

Over the summer, he said he worked out with Seahawks defensive cornerstones Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright, didn’t hear anything, so he moved back to Hillsboro, Ore., and kept training.

That’s when the Hockinson job opened up.

“He’s phenomenal,” backup tight end Kyle Brabec said. “Teaching us things a high school player would never learn. Things that NFL players know, and in college, that gives us milliseconds off the ball faster than guys, but that counts like 3 seconds in a high school game.”

Through the connection of assistant offensive coordinator Steve Faulstick, his uncle, he took on a role as volunteer tight ends coach. He’s worked one-on-one helping first-year tight ends Brabec and Jake Beslanowtich adapt to the position. The Hawks didn’t use a tight end last season, but this year the two have been big pieces of the offense.

For Beslanowitch, the trust he has in Plinke goes a long way. He said he’s watched all of Plinke’s college highlights. Many on the team see him as a role model.

“He came out at the beginning of the season and everything kind of changed for me and Kyle,” Beslanowitch said. “He just pushed us past our point we thought we had, worked with us all the time … he helped me a lot to develop in this position.”

Plinke said coaching the team has been a humbling experience. Working with the team has given him a new view on football.

“I told them back in August, ‘hey, I’m volunteering here. I don’t have to be here. If you’re not going to give me your full effort, I’m not going to show up. It’s not worth my time. I’m here to win a ring. I think I set the standard pretty early with them, and they’ve been great.”

Now he works a construction job, stays in football shape and commutes an hour each way to Hockinson practices — all while waiting for a call from the pros.

That call came on Monday he showed up to his construction job at 7:30 a.m. He had two missed calls, one from his agent, another from the Seahawks.

The message: “How soon can you be to Seattle?”

The Seahawks were getting thin at tight end, so Plinke traded the construction site for the Virginia-Mason Athletic Complex, the Seahawks’ practice site in Renton, and worked out for a potential spot on the practice squad.

He missed the Hockinson’s Monday film review, but the players understood.

“Some people on the team who were disappointed we weren’t going to have them there because he hypes us up all the time. In our hearts, we knew that was the best thing.”

The Seahawks signed another tight end on Tuesday and Plinke returned to practice. But he left with the feeling that he’s closer to his dream.

Head coach Rick Steele said: “I wish he wasn’t (with us) right now. Always glad to have him. But I’d sure like to see him with the big boys.”

So Plinke, to the joy of the players, will be with the team this Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.

Though Beslanowitch, Brabec and the rest of the program acknowledge he’d rather be in Seattle,

“You should have seen our text messages yesterday, I was like, ‘my dream can wait, we’re winning state this week,’ ” Plinke said.

But he won’t stop reaching for his ultimate goal.

“It’s been hard mentally,” Plinke said. “Everyday it’s like, is the dream over? And I don’t know. But I’m going to keep it going. It’s not over for me.”