COLVILLE – The scruffy beard adorning Colville’s Colton Vining makes him look like a teenage version of the 1970s TV character Grizzly Adams.
But watching the 5-foot-7, 175-pound senior stiff-arm bigger defenders for extra yards or force fumbles on defense makes him appear more like a wolverine who plays the game with the heart the size of the Selkirk Mountains.
After scoring his second touchdown last Friday in a 52-0 drubbing of Riverside, Vining took his helmet off to reveal the ever-present smile that lets everyone know that it’s just plain fun to be him.
“He always has a smile on his face,” Colville coach Randy Cornwell said. “He always acts that way. He’s always excited and happy and raring to go. I’ve never seen him down.”
It’s easy to see why.
Few sportsmen from any genre could match the week Vining recently recorded. On Sept. 12, he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-21 victory over West Valley. The next day, Vining went after and got one of four bears he and his brother, Clayton, had been seeing on trail cameras placed on their grandfather’s property outside of Colville.
On Sept. 14, the brothers went bow hunting near Chewelah and Colton shot a spike bull elk that they jumped at first light and were able to call back into range.
A few days later, Vining ran for 169 yards on eight carries, made an interception and scored the first five touchdowns in a 50-14 shellacking of Medical Lake.
That effort, minus the 250-pound bear and bull elk, earned the Vining the WIAA’s statewide award for Athlete of the Week, making him the first player Cornwell has had win the award in his 18 years as coach.
“His dedication and commitment is just awesome,” Cornwell said, noting that Vining hasn’t missed a 5:30 a.m. lifting session in more than two years. “He’s strong and he’s quick. He’s pretty small stature, but he plays pretty big.”
‘He’s too little’
Vining plays running back on offense and outside linebacker on defense. In fact, he only comes off the field for kickoffs if the game’s outcome remains in doubt.
“As a freshman, he was even smaller yet,” Cornwell said. “Our defensive coach Bill Carpenter said, ‘You know this Vining kid could play.’ I said, ‘No. He’s too little.’ “
Cornwell then had Vining play defense against the varsity offense in practice.
“He was a pain in the butt. He got in on plays. He was scrappy. He disrupted things,” Cornwell said. “He made a believer out of me.”
After starting on the defensive side as a freshman, Vining started on offense and defense as a sophomore. Last year as a junior, he ran for 1,096 yards and 13 touchdowns and was a first-team All-Great Northern League selection.
After only four games as a senior, Vining has 507 yards and 10 touchdowns.
As for the beard, some say Vining has had it since he was 14.
“If he’s had it since his sophomore year, I don’t remember seeing it,” Cornwell said. “I only recall seeing it in the last year.”
First bear at 8
Immediately after the game against Riverside, Colton’s father, Denny Vining, was waiting – clad in camouflage – to take his son to join older brother, Clayton, for a bow hunt for elk east of Moscow.
“Absolutely, I’m proud,” Denny Vining said. “He’s put a lot of hard work and effort into it. He’s 100 percent football.”
That is of course, until the game ends.
“When I’m not hunting, I’m scouting,” Colton said. “When I’m not scouting, I’m playing football.”
Raised in a family of hunters, Colton started when he was 7. He got his first deer at 8 and a couple of weeks later, he shot his first bear.
Since he was 7, Colton said he could only remember one year he didn’t bring home a deer to their house, located about 8 miles northeast of Colville.
Even the middle sibling, 19-year-old daughter Jacy, who is a two-sport star at Spokane Falls Community College, has killed several deer.
Shopping for the Vining kids has always been simple.
“Their wardrobe is 85 percent camo,” Denny Vining said.
But bear hunting is not something the family does every year.
“I’d have to have one chewing on my leg before I’d shoot it,” Denny Vining said. “I like to do something with the hides, but it’s too expensive.”
The family paid to have Colton’s first bear turned into a rug. They took the hide from his latest bear to be tanned.
Like most Washington hunters, who are not allowed to use bait or dogs to hunt bears, the Vinings typically keep a bear tag in case they see one while hunting deer or elk.
But this year, the brothers Vining had been seeing four bears on their trail cameras all summer long.
“We usually don’t have that many bears,” Colton said. “But they have been logging above my grandpa’s place. So this year, we had quite a few.”
On Sept. 13, the brothers walked in along the clear cut where they had seen images of the bears, including one huge black bear with scars on its side.
Clayton, a junior forestry major at Idaho, carried his muzzle loader and Colton has his 7 mm Remington Magnum rifle. They walked up the cut and saw one of the smaller bears lying down.
“The plan was that Clayton was going to shoot it,” Colton said. “But when we approached, it winded (smelled) us and it started walking away. That’s when I shot it.”
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