EAST WENATCHEE — Chris Faulconer can’t get away from football.
He fell in love with the game during his high school career bottling up wide receivers as a cornerback for the Wenatchee Panthers.
The 1995 graduate took a hiatus when he was offered a track scholarship by Central Washington as a sprinter.
His track career didn’t start until his junior year of high school, when his football coach suggested he pursue the sport after clocking a 4.5-second 40-yard dash time.
What Faulconer lacked in technique, he made up for in athleticism.
“It was just raw speed,” he said. “I had no idea how to start … what proper running was, so I knew at that point that I had a special talent.”
After a successful four-year career as a collegiate sprinter — Faulconer competed in the 100- and 200-meter and helped set a school record in the 4x100 with a time of 40.97 — he tried to continue his running career after graduating with a business degree in 2000, but family life and work stifled his efforts.
“There weren’t enough hours in the day,” he said.
So Faulconer returned to the grid iron. He played for the Apple Valley Bucks in 2003, a semi-pro team that was later absorbed by the Wenatchee Valley Rams.
His second tour in pads, Faulconer was a thick-necked, rugged specimen built to deliver punishing hits to ball carriers (he packed on several pounds of muscle during his collegiate career).
He suffered a concussion in 2004 during a road game in Seattle. He didn’t remember the drive home and the coach refused to put him back in the game, despite Faulconer’s request to go back in. The collision scared his wife, Shellie — who was listening to the game on a radio broadcast — and Faulconer agreed to hang up the cleats to focus on his family and career.
The 36-year-old played golf to try and fill the void, but it didn’t quite pan out.
“That didn’t work,” he said. “(I’m) just a terrible golfer, I guess.”
Faulconer spent the majority of the next six years abstaining from football altogether.
“I knew that if I went to a game, I’d want to come back,” he said. “So I decided to stay away.”
Family life and his career at the Washington State Department as a revenue tax auditor kept him plenty busy in that time. Chris and Shellie have two children, Jada, 9, and Cale, 7.
But in the spring of 2010, Faulconer agreed to take his son to a Rams game.
Naturally, “I got the itch to come back,” Faulconer said.
With his family’s blessing, Faulconer suited up for another round with the Washington Football League squad.
He’s been a catalyst for the Rams’ defense since then. Faulconer, one of the team’s leading tacklers the past three years, played a big part in Wenatchee Valley’s undefeated 2013 season. It faces the Spokane Wolfpack at 5 p.m. Saturday for the WFL Championship at Eastmont Junior High.
But it comes with a price.
Faulconer bares a scar on his left bicep, roughly the size of a quarter, from an injury that required stitches in 2011. Last year, he broke his ankle while playing.
He partially tore a hamstring during a 42-22 win over Snohomish on May 18, but managed to recover and recorded 10 tackles in last week’s 30-14 win against the Okanogan Commandos in the opening round of the playoffs.
Clearly, there’s still plenty left in the tank.
Faulconer still flashes plenty of speed — though he admits he’s not as fast as he was during his collegiate track career — and shifts between middle and outside linebacker and also plays some fullback and tailback.
“He’s bigger, but he’s got the speed to play both,” said coach Mickey White, who has worked with Faulconer off and on since 2003. “He doesn’t have to stay inside; he can come off the edge as well as anyone. He covers quite a bit of ground pretty fast.”
Faulconer said he will continue to play until his “wheels fall off.”
The broken ankle was a wheel coming loose, he said, but its not necessarily an omen of the end (the WFL has players in their 40’s).
White said Faulconer’s knowledge of the game spiked drastically in the 2013 season and that Faulconer does a better job of reading plays than ever before.
White said that’s due to Faulconer’s involvement in the local Pop Warner football program, in which his son plays.
“In years past, its been mainly just his athleticism,” White said. “But now he’s been in the system long enough and he’s coached himself, so being a coach, he learned the game a lot better.”
Faulconer’s role with Pop Warner football — as a coach and now league commissioner — does more than just improve his knowledge, it’s his way of completing the cycle.
Sports have played an instrumental role in the Wenatchee native’s life, from giving him a scholarship, to providing him a strong support system in what he called the “Ram family.”
“My wife has a book club,” Faulconer said. “She meets all her girlfriends and discusses books. This is kind of like book club for men. It really is a family.”
Working in youth football is helping him make the transition, just in case his playing career really is coming to a close.
“That’s been helping me transition to my retirement,” he said of coaching Pop Warner. “Because football did a lot for me. Sports in general did a lot for me.”