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WSU’s newest freshman


COUGARS

Saturday night against Notre Dame, the Washington State University fullback snuck out into the right flat and caught a pass from Jeff Tuel. It went for 12 yards. And if you were wondering who No. 37 was that caught it, read on. We’ll tell you.

••••••••••

• Before we get to our feature on freshman Jared Byers, we want to share a couple notes from practice. … Tony Thompson was in street clothes. The ding he got Tuesday turned out to be a concussion. It looks like the senior won’t be available for Saturday’s game. … The UCLA game next Saturday was picked up by Fox College Sports, a bunch of regional cable channels Fox uses to televise around the country (Saturday’s Arizona game is live on FCS Atlantic, so unless you have a way to find it on your system, you might have to wait for the 7:30 p.m. replay on FSN). Fox will replay the UCLA game sometime that night, but the time hasn’t been set yet. … The ones paired off with the ones in a 2-minute drill to end practice Thursday. The offense got down to the 13-yard line as time was running out. Jeff Tuel scrambled on second down, everyone was covered so he threw the ball away to save one last play. It was all he would need. He bought time and found Gino Simone on the back line of the end zone for a score, causing the offense to explode and celebrate in the end zone. … That’s about it, except someone asked about Arthur Burns on defense. He’s there for the rest of the year, learning how to play linebacker. If he shows an aptitude, he’ll be there in the spring. I don’t know if it is coincidence or not, but the move was made the day after WSU received a commitment from Berkeley High running back Rickey Galvin. … One last note, basketball related. I heard the number of points WSU gave up to Montana in their closed-to-everyone (ya right) scrimmage was less than the 59 we were told earlier. So there’s that.

• And here’s our feature …

PULLMAN – There is probably no player on the Washington State University football team who has seen more Cougar games than Jared Byers.

After all, every game in Pullman for the past 18 years has been a home game for him.

From the 2002 Apple Cup double-overtime defeat that crushed his spirit to watching and cheering for former Cougar fullback Jed Collins, WSU football played a big part in the 18-year-old’s life.

A life he’s always lived in Pullman.

But being a football player with aspirations to play beyond his stellar Pullman High career that ended last fall, Byers didn’t think there was much chance he would stay in his hometown for college.

After all, as with most 6-foot, 200-pound, not-overly-fast, high school linebackers/running backs, Pac-10 schools weren’t sending a lot of handwritten letters to the Great Northern League’s defensive MVP.

So Byers was resigned to playing his college football outside the Palouse.

“I never knew this opportunity was going to take place,” Byers said, “but I’m extremely excited it did.”

The opportunity he’s talking about is, in general, the chance to walk-on at Washington State.

That came about last spring when co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball, who has a son at Pullman High, helped Byers garner a walk-on spot with the Cougars.

But there’s another opportunity Byers is referring to.

Let’s go back a little more than a month.

Byers was home – he lives with his parents and commutes to classes – after practice one night when the phone rang. His younger brother answered. It was WSU coach Paul Wulff.

Would Byers, who played fullback in high school, mind switching over to offense this week, Wulff asked? The Cougars need a blocking back.

“He’s a tough kid who wants to be a football player and he has some physical ability as well,” Wulff said later. “He’s got a chance to really help this program.

“When he’s in the game, he does good things. … We’ve tried to find that second back, blocking back type-of-a-guy.”

Byers turned out to be the guy.

The freshman played a handful of plays that week against Oregon, sticking his nose into the pile ahead of Dwight Tardy or Logwone Mitz or fellow freshman Carl Winston.

More plays followed against Arizona State and Cal, all as a blocker. Then came Notre Dame last week.

Early on Byers leaked out in the flat after a run fake and caught a 12-yard pass from Jeff Tuel.

“I was so happy when they passed to me,” he said, smiling. “My parents at home watching, they went crazy.”

Later, Byers started lining up just off center close to the right tackle. From there, his blocks helped spring Tardy for a 20-yard gain and Mitz for another 12 on WSU’s first scoring drive.

“I never thought I would be playing against Notre Dame, that’s for sure,” Byers said, “unless it was on a video game.”

Byers knows it’s not Playstation III he’s playing. Banging around the line of scrimmage, living the dream, has reinforced that. And he knows he’s going to have to add to the 207 pounds he know carries if he wants to reach his new dream.

“There’s just one more dream, of going to a bowl game,” he said. “I think we’re going to get there very soon.”

The odds say that’s a long way off, considering the Cougars are 1-7 headed into Saturday’s game at Arizona. But Byers has beaten the odds before.

•••

• That’s it for now. We’ll be back in the morning with links. Until then …


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