YAKIMA, Wash. -- The big hit wasn’t supposed to happen, but pretty much everybody at the Ellensburg football practice that day — including the coach and the guy on the receiving end of the hit — was glad it did.

It came in a midseason practice on the heels of back-to-back losses to Prosser and Othello that left the Bulldogs “kind of struggling,” recalls coach Randy Affholter, “trying to find ourselves again.”

Practices were generally at “thud tempo,” meaning defensive players don’t go full-bore, tackling ballcarriers to the ground. On this play, though, then-junior defensive tackle Ryan Secondi — playing scout team against the No. 1 offense — got his helmet knocked off during a collision with an offensive lineman, didn’t so much as flinch and then chased down the ballcarrier, Gabe Caskey, and tackled him. Hard.

“It was kind of supposed to be thud, but Ryan hits him kind of like the full-meal deal,” Affholter says. “Gabe gets up like, Who hit me?, sees Ryan and nodded, like that’s OK.”

It was OK for two reasons. For one, Secondi was trying to work his way into the lineup after having missed most of the 2012 season and all of his sophomore season after two knee surgeries following motocross-racing accidents. And for another, Secondi and Caskey are both tough competitors who share a mutual respect.

“If I had to pick one person (as the hardest-working teammate), it’d be Gabe Caskey,” Secondi says. “He runs the ball hard and he’s not scared of anybody — he’ll definitely not back away from anybody. Off the field, we’re good friends. On the field, it’s go time and we’re not going to back down from each other, that’s for sure.”

That practice-field tackle was a telling moment, both for Secondi and the team, which follows its own tradition each game by touching the rock emblazoned with the school’s logo and important dates and slogans.

“That moment in practice changed us, because all of a sudden Ryan Secondi’s back,” Affholter says. “We had an image, we had some toughness back. Ryan’s a leader. Kids look up to him. He plays the right way and he plays HARD.”

He practices the same way, and that’s not going to change. Secondi knows what is expected of a senior on a team filled with underclassmen who need role models.

“It’s something I want: I want to be a leader on this team,” he says. “There’s 11 guys out there on the field just looking for somebody to be excited, who shows they’re willing to be there every day and work hard for them.”

Secondi isn’t a superstitious guy, but on game days he definitely likes to do something that, on other days, he doesn’t much care about: start the day off with a filling breakfast.

“I usually try to get waffles, but it depends on how early my mom leaves for work because I’m not the best cook,” he admits. And if Mom’s gone early and making waffles sounds too difficult?

“A few bowls of cereal,” Secondi says with a sigh.

Obviously, the cereal’s not a big hit.