Philomath High's Tony Rath loves playing sports.
In the fall, you could find Rath making tackles, catching balls and kicking field goals for the football team. Over the winter, he enjoys success on the wrestling mat as a two-time state qualifier. And in the spring, Rath has been a regular contributor as an outfielder with the baseball team.
As an undersized athlete, he's had to endure a few jokes over the years. But this 5-foot-8 senior plans to knock heads at the collegiate level next fall at Pacific Lutheran University.
"I get that a lot, a 5-8 kid, small," Rath said when asked about his height. "I've always been undersized, but I've never let it define me. I always get told you're too small for this, you're too small for that, but it's never really been an issue for me."
And then he added, "I play a lot bigger than I am. It's the size of the fight in the dog, not the size of the dog in the fight."
Pacific Lutheran, a Division III school based in Tacoma, Washington, had a 4-4 record in 2017. Rath said he'll probably play either slot receiver or at a defensive back spot, such as safety.
"I played a little safety this high school season and had a big game against Stayton," Rath said. "That's where a lot of my film was from, that Stayton game, when I was back at safety. Then I transitioned to linebacker, but there's no way ... there's a limit to the height thing and that's where it crosses the line up in college."
Philomath's defensive coordinator, Mike Waters, helped hook up Rath with PLU. One of the new coaches joining the Warriors program last fall, Waters has worked at several small colleges and knows how to help players find a college home.
"If I see a prospect that could play at the next level, I talk to him and his parents and get them into the system," Waters said during an interview late last summer. "You won't find me at an Oregon State game. On Saturday, if I'm not watching film, I'm at a DIII game or with my guys up at Western Oregon."
Rath said Waters noticed that he had potential to continue playing football beyond high school.
"Coach Waters, he really kinda started this whole thing," Rath said. "It was an unlikely source, a guy that I just met last season in football. I have nothing but a huge thanks and gratitude toward him."
Just like that, Rath had an opportunity that he didn't foresee.
"It kinda rekindled the childhood dream of mine to play college football," said Rath, who participated in a signing ceremony Monday at PHS. "I always saw myself there as a little kid and imagined myself as a college football player."
Adding to Rath's challenge of getting to the next level was the fact that he didn't have much of an opportunity to get on the gridiron as a junior. With the Warriors suspending the varsity program, players could only compete with the junior varsity.
Rath played in three of the JV's four games that fall. The game he missed was because of a neck injury that he had suffered.
"A lot of people call me crazy for that, suffering the neck injury and going into football," he said. "But I just have no fear and I feel like this is what I feel like God wants me to do, and that was a huge part of my decision.
"My dad always asked me, 'Where you going to go?' and I would tell him that I still haven't figured it out yet, I haven't been shown," Rath added. "And I was just waiting for the right time for God to show me the way and he actually did."
More important than playing football will be the education that Rath will be receiving.
"They have a great program with their health sciences," Rath said. "Seventy percent of their students in their health sciences program get accepted into medical school the first time, which is a huge thing. The national average is 40 percent ... that was a huge thing in my decision to go there."
Rath plans to pursue a career as an orthopedic surgeon, preferably in sports medicine at a college.
Division III schools do not award athletic scholarships but Rath said "I'm getting a good chunk of change for academics."
"The constant pushing from my parents to succeed in my academics has really paid off," said Rath, the son of C.A. and Merry Rath. "I'm getting a lot of money from them for that and I keep applying for more scholarships. If I get a couple, it'll actually cost me less to go to PLU than it would to go to Oregon State."
Rath said he knew PLU was the right spot for him at the conclusion of the campus visit.
"Right when I stepped on campus, it felt like home," he said. "My dad even said it just feels right here. After the visit was over, we got into the car and were about to head home and I said 'this is where I want to be.'"