SPOKANE, Wash. -- Steve Gleason hasn't put on a Gonzaga Prep football jersey since he graduated in 1995, but he's as close to the program now as he was then.
The former Gonzaga Prep, WSU and NFL star is battling ALS, a terminal disease that’s slowly robbing his body of its ability to control his muscles.
The disease has only strengthened Gleason’s ties to Gonzaga Prep. He invited three seniors, Samuel Dowd, Stephen Machtolf and Clint Wacholz from this year’s team to visit him on vacation in Sandpoint last month along with Gonzaga Prep defensive coordinator H.T Higgins who also coached Steve.
They all knew his current condition and said it was hard to see up close.
“I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to respond to that. Seeing a man who I’ve seen videos of blocking punts and this athletic, incredible man, and to see him in a chair not able to move, it was hard,” said Wacholz.
"It was rough, it was hard to swallow, but for him to remember everything and still ask me about my dad, ask me how the family was... it was cool that you know he's still 100% there mentally," said Machtolf, whose father, Mark, was Steve’s linebacker coach at Gonzaga Prep.
Once Gleason put them at ease the boys received the gift of his inspiration that he’s been handing to Prep players since the mid-90’s when he started returning to the school to talk with and coach the players.
"He's still very present in our lives," said Machtolf.
Head coach Dave McKenna agreed.
"Steve is a part of this football program and has been since he graduated from Prep," said McKenna. "Pregame defensive meetings, they're watching some film on Steve. Whether it's him reading a book to Rivers [Steve's two-year-old son] or him blocking a punt."
The players each took away something from their special meeting to carry with them.
"We have a saying, don't hit the snooze button, because Steve doesn't," said Wacholz.
"Live every day like it's your last," said Dowd.