Mike Riley usually has at least one question for H.D. Weddel.
“I always ask H.D. every time he comes over what the roads are like," says Riley, longtime head football coach at Oregon State University.
As just about any Central Oregonian will attest, trips over the Santiam Pass to the Willamette Valley can be challenging.
Yet Weddel — the 55-year-old principal at Bend High School — makes the trip to Corvallis just about every week during the football season.
As one of OSU's two football team chaplains, a position for which he has volunteered for the past seven years and shares with Tom Ramsay of Corvallis, Weddel will accompany the team to San Antonio for Saturday's Alamo Bowl between the Beavers and Texas.
He receives no pay for this job. But for Weddel, being a team chaplain is his role in an Oregon State football “family" that he says he loves like his own.
“It's a family deal, so we love it," says Weddel. “Oregon State is a family, there is no question about it."
An Oregon State graduate and a former wrestler at the school, Weddel has deep roots in Corvallis.
In college, Weddel struck up a close friendship with Jay Locey, OSU's current assistant head coach, and the two were roommates for a few years after college.
And at tiny Linfield College in McMinnville — where Locey coached football for 23 years, including 10 years as head coach — Weddel (who spent much of his teaching career in Tigard and McMinnville high schools) got his start as a chaplain.
He spent 20 years as a spiritual leader of Linfield's football program. And along the way, Weddel forged a relationship with Danny Langsdorf, a former Linfield quarterback who is now the Beavers' offensive coordinator.
So when Riley was looking for somebody to guide his players beyond just the field, Locey and Langsdorf knew the right man for the job.
“He's always been gifted that way," says Locey of Weddel. “He just brings energy. He's fun, pleasant, positive, upbeat, enthusiastic. That's just the way he is. And that's the way he has always been."
Weddel, who had taught at Bend High in the 1990s, returned to the school in 2005 as assistant principal. Still, he was willing to perform a balancing act between his school duties, his family responsibilities (he is married and the father of two daughters) and 275-mile round trips to Corvallis.
“It is a natural fit because of my relationship with a lot of those guys," Weddel says.
On the night before games, Weddel — who is not an ordained minister but describes himself as a deeply Christian man — hosts voluntary chapels for OSU's players and staff in the team's hotel, even for home games. And at 9 p.m., he addresses the entire team with words of encouragement and lessons about character, something he draws from his 34 years as an educator, he says.
“We make it very relevant to the week, relevant to the season, and relevant to their lives," says Weddel, who speaks on topics such as motivation, perseverance, dedication, sacrifice, teamwork, and dealing with adversity and victory. “We'll tie in how it affects the game as well as their lives."
Saturdays he spends on the Beaver sidelines, mostly as a cheerleader. But according to Riley, it is the work he does the night before that has endeared him to the OSU program.
“You should see (the players) light up when he is around," Riley says. “H is absolutely awesome. I've often, when listening to him speak, think, 'We need more school administrators like this guy right here.' He gets it. He's great with kids.
“What he says to our team and to the people at chapel always has tremendous substance to it," Riley adds. “A lot of thought has gone into it and it's well, well done."
That praise comes as no surprise to Locey.
“Once H.D. shared (his message) a couple times, it was just kind of like, 'Boy, this guy is special,'" Locey says. “So it didn't take long at all for H to be just who he is and just share the messages that he shares."
Part of the program
Riley considers Weddel an important member of “the family" at OSU, something Weddel does not take lightly.
Weddel can turn most questions about his chaplain duties into a commendation of the Oregon State coaching staff, especially Riley.
One of Riley's traits, in particular, allows Weddel to have an impact with the team, the chaplain says.
“Coach Riley is all about character; it's really big to him," Weddel says. “That's why his program is deep and not just wide. There is depth to him, and the whole coaching staff, for that matter. That's why that coaching staff stays together."
This season has been a high point for the Beavers: nationally ranked after a 9-3 season. But the lows are still fresh.
Just last year, the Beavers struggled to a brutal 3-9 season. Worse yet, in December, Oregon State freshman defensive tackle Fred Thompson collapsed and died while playing an on-campus pickup basketball game.
Weddel presided over a memorial service for Thompson.
“That was low," Weddel says of Thompson's death. “That one hurt."
But Weddel speaks with pride about what has happened since, including a turnaround on the field.
“Because there was such a foundation built around people, (the program) survived well because the priorities are in the right spot," Weddel says. “So when you face adversity like that, you are able to handle it better because the right things are in the right place."
Weddel has played no small part in making sure the direction of the football program stays true, Riley says.
He has forged a close bond with Riley's players and inspires them to make better decisions in life.
“It's bigger than a half-hour on a Friday night," Riley says of Weddel's mentoring. “Those kind of things are really, really meaningful. Those are what I hope are the meat of the program."
And that impact is what motivates Weddel to make the trip to Corvallis week after week, even though much is on his own dime. (OSU gives Weddel a seat on the team charter plane for road games.)
“They (the OSU players) come from all over the United States and (places) far different than Bend," Weddel says. “You get 100-plus kids in there, and those kids aren't perfect.
“But when they walk away from that program, if they can stay there four or five years, they will be better men ... because of that program. And I get to be part of that. How fun is that?"