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Looking back: Raul Vijil helped spark Eastern Washington and Spokane Shock success

UPDATED: Mon., May 25, 2020

Spokane's Raul Vijil wears a grin as he scampers into the endzone with just seconds left in the first half against Wilkes-Barre on July 11, 2009 at the Spokane Arena. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane's Raul Vijil wears a grin as he scampers into the endzone with just seconds left in the first half against Wilkes-Barre on July 11, 2009 at the Spokane Arena. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Quicker than Raul Vijil’s feet was the way he learned.

Before the former Eastern Washington and Spokane Shock receiver was catching passes in tight windows and shifting past defenders, he hadn’t played a down of high school football until senior year.

Pasco High School’s best soccer player made the move to pads with aplomb, registering 204 receiving yards in a 20-3 State 4A title game win over Bethel, a championship game record that still stands.

He signed with Eastern Washington, had an All-Big Sky Conference career and found his niche down the road with Spokane’s new af2 team.

Vijil’s time with the Spokane Shock coincided with the franchise’s glory years, winning the af2’s ArenaCup title in 2006, the franchise’s first year, and ensuing 2009 and 2010 championshipsin the top-tier AFL.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Vijil was instrumental in the Shock’s out-of-nowhere rise, finishing his six-year career with 421 catches, 4,952 yards and 131 touchdowns.

His No. 15 jersey was retired by the Shock before the team rebranded to the Spokane Empire in 2015 and changed leagues, ultimately ceasing operations in 2017.

“(The jersey) used to hang in the Spokane Arena, with all of our championship banners,” said Vijil, now a 37-year-old athletic trainer in the Tri-Cities. “I went to a Garth Brooks concert (in November 2017), looked up, and they were gone. I wasn’t happy about that.”

With the recent rebirth of the Spokane Shock, who were set to play this spring before the season was halted due to COVID-19 concerns, he hopes the banners will be back.

Being a local product on Shock teams littered with Power 5-level collegiate talent made the franchise’s swift success even more special.

“We had some great players, like (former Washington receiver) Charles Frederick and (former Miami receiver) Kevin Beard,” Vijil said. “I remember when my Dad asked, ‘Hey, do think you’ll even make this team?’ ”

The electric Vijil was a popular figure among Shock purists, orange- and blue-clad fans who quickly helped sell out the Spokane Arena.

He wasn’t the only former Eagle on the team.

Former EWU standouts Isaiah Trufant (defensive back), Kurt Sigler (offensive line), Anthony Griffin (linebacker) and Jesse Hendrix (defensive back) were a part of the Shock in its early years.

Several other EWU products, such as former Walter Payton Award-winning quarterback Erik Meyer, played for the Shock in its later years.

Vijil has kept tabs on the EWU program since he graduated in 2006, attending multiple games a year.

“They’ve had a great run since I was in school,” Vijil said. “A lot of the guys I played with believe we helped start that run. There were successful seasons in the 1990s, but it wasn’t sustained. The success kept going after we graduated.”

Under then-head coach Paul Wulff, the Eagles won back-to-back Big Sky titles in Vijil’s junior and senior seasons, and went 6-5 in his freshman and sophomore years.

Meyer was the quarterback in the Eagles’ two playoff appearances. Eric Kimble, the team’s leading receiver, and Vijil, who was primarily a slot receiver, were Meyer’s primary targets.

Vijil had NFL and Canadian Football League hopes before then-Shock coach Chris Siegfried opted to bring area talent to his roster.

Siegfried believed Vijil’s skills would translate well to the arena game.

“There were a few things in (arena football) that fit my style of play,” Vijil said. “As a slot, I played in tight quarters, and that’s what a lot of (arena football) is.”

He caught on quickly, as did the Shock brand in its inaugural season.

“I had no clue what the af2 was,” he said. “People were interested in this new football team in Spokane, and people got hooked. When we played teams on the road, it wasn’t as packed (as the Spokane Arena).”

After starring in the af2 – a developmental league for the higher-paying AFL – for three seasons, Vijil was beginning to generate interest from AFL teams such as the Philadelphia Soul, Los Angeles Avengers, Colorado Crush and Utah Blaze.

Utah offered Vijil a contact, but due to great recession of 2008, the team ceased operations in 2009.

Vijil returned to Spokane, which soon moved to the AFL after af2 disbanded in 2009.

He was a member of the 2010 AFL championship season, but suffered a season-ending injury. He played his final season in 2011 and returned as a trainer.

Vijil was recently on a Zoom video call with new Shock owner Sam Adams and other former Shock greats, discussing the team’s short but rich history.

He hopes the Shock can bottle the same excitement it did, but now as a member of the Indoor Football League. The AFL folded last year.

“I’m excited that the Shock are back, but it’s a different game. There are different rules,” Vijil said. “AFL was more fast-paced and lot of scoring, where the IFL has more of a running game and true running back.

“I hope the Shock catch back on.”

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