YAKIMA, Wash. — A typical spring workout unexpectedly turned into one of the most memorable moments of Brian Greene’s career so far at Washington State.

Players had just finished running in the sandpit and started deadlifts when offensive line coach Mason Miller stopped pacing the room to casually let the former Eisenhower High School standout know he’d been placed on full scholarship. Greene recalled being in shock, not sure if the coach was serious until he confirmed papers were ready to be signed after the weight session.

“One of my buddies, Liam Ryan, literally sprinted across the room and literally jumped on my shoulders and I just got rushed,” Greene said. “So that was pretty cool. I got dogpiled and that was fun.”

Emotions continued to flow when Greene called his parents, sending his mother into tears of joy while his father shared in their happiness and pride. It’s an honor Greene earned after his first full season as the Cougars’ second-string center, solidifying a key role in a program that’s changed his life.

Friends for life

In his first two seasons at Washington State, Greene played on a team that set the school record for wins less than a year after going through perhaps the most devastating tragedy in program history.

Six weeks before the end of his freshman season Greene became the second-string center, meaning he spent a lot of time with the backup quarterback, Tyler Hilinski. The two also worked together in class as lab partners, strengthening their friendship.

When news of Hilinski’s suicide reached Greene in January 2018, he was just as shocked as everyone else. The Cougars needed each other more than ever to cope with the pain and figure out how to move forward.

“When Tyler passed, that was probably one of the worst moments of my life,” Greene said. “He was one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life, so it rocked our world.”

It shattered the stigmas around players discussing serious mental health issues, and Greene remembers all the freshman talking constantly, praying and going to church together. Traveling as a team to Hilinski’s funeral in California left another indelible impact, and Greene continues to be amazed by the strength of Hilinski’s parents and the work of the family’s foundation, Hilinski’s Hope.

The bonds between teammates kept strengthening into friendships Greene believes will last well beyond graduation, then a graduate transfer from East Carolina added another element of unity. Greene said he’s never met anyone as charismatic as Gardner Minshew, who gained absolute trust from his new teammates almost immediately.

“All of our selfish players became team players and it became so fruitful,” Greene said. “Just the continuity that our team built was actually really mindblowing to me.”

Greene and his fellow offensive linemen gained a dynamic leader in offensive line coach Mason Miller, who arrived in Pullman in February 2018. The former Nevada assistant feels like a close older friend to Greene, making it easy for him to keep developing his game.

Growing his role

While Washington State kept climbing up the national rankings last fall thanks to a 10-1 start, Greene finally began making some contributions on Saturdays.

He credits the strength and conditioning team at WSU for quickly transforming him from a 310-pound out-of-shape freshman to a lean, athletic blocker. Mike Leach’s fast-paced air attack means lineman must be agile and ready line up quickly, almost the opposite of the methodical ground game favored at Eisenhower.

Those changes allowed Greene to step into the backup spot behind Frederick Mauigoa, an All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention center listed as the No. 5 2020 NFL draft prospect at his position by WalterFootball.com. As a senior, he’ll keep teaching Greene to prepare him for a starting spot.

The 6-foot-4, 300-pound lineman already filled in during part of the last five games last season, both on special teams and to give Mauigoa a break while he played through an injury. Greene said he played some guard during the spring and he’s ready to take on more responsibility should the opportunity arise this fall.

“I feel like our whole team this year has just really synced well together after the Alamo Bowl and we return a lot of dudes,” Greene said. “I feel like we have a really good team and a really good starting point for this upcoming season.”

No matter when his chance to shine arrives, Greene will keep putting in the work needed to make sure he’s ready. Players from Yakima like Davis grads Cooper and Kettner Kupp, and Greene’s good friend Shane Lemieux — an All-American guard at Oregon who graduated from West Valley — set a path Greene’s eager to follow.

He’s also developed into a confident speaker while studying education, with aspirations of becoming a principal or superintendent. Eisenhower coach Gary Jimenez said he was impressed with Greene’s ability to relate to the Cadets when he spoke about what it takes to succeed in high school and beyond.

“I always talk to them about just not being the typical average kid,” Greene said. “I always preach just not to be mediocre and pursue your dreams, because you can make it from anywhere.”

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com on Twitter: @luketscribe