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Memories from Pullman

A GRIP ON SPORTS

Over the course of covering Washington State football for five years, I dealt with a diverse group of players. There were small ones, big ones, tall ones, short ones, fast ones and not-so-fast ones. They all sort of melded together in the memory banks after awhile. But one guy stood out for something he used to do on the sidelines at practice. And now that guy is in the news again. Read on.


••••••••••

• The CFL held its draft yesterday – bet that little piece of “big” news came as a surprise – and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers traded the Nos. 8 and 13 picks to move up to the third spot. With their selection, the Bombers took offensive tackle Tyson Pencer from Washington State University. Now, if you are a Cougar fan, you probably know a bit about Pencer, quite possibly the player whose circumstances frustrated former head coach Paul Wulff the most in Wulff's four years in Pullman. To summarize, Pencer arrived at WSU in Bill Doba's final year, a tight end from Vancouver, British Columbia. But after a few days on campus and at practice, the NCAA ruled some of Pencer's classes didn't qualify and he had to return home to become eligible. He did, returning the next fall with Wulff now in charge. The 6-foot-8 Pencer was moved inside to the offensive line and started to put on muscle – and pick up injuries. A series of them conspired to keep the Cougar with the most professional potential – Wulff's assessment, not mine – in sweats more often than pads – a lot more often – over the next few years. When he did suit up, Pencer had a tendency to move people, whether it was at tackle or at guard, where he started playing more as he added more and more weight. Don't get the impression Pencer was a bad egg, far from it. He was a great kid who seemed to enjoy his time in Pullman. But he just couldn't stay healthy. Or in shape. Which led to his most memorable moments. See, no one was more expressive or more consistent when it came to expelling their lunch during practice, an occurrence that is more common than you might think during the early stages of fall practice. Except in Pencer's case, it happened a lot and loudly. After supplying a soundtrack for practice for a few years, Pencer finally left WSU, suffering from grade problems that, I'm sure, were magnified by his string of injuries, went back to Canada and got ready for the draft. The prep time worked. He'll now join former Cougar quarterback Alex Brink on the Bombers. Let's hope he doesn't need their trash cans.

• I'm going to be on the radio this afternoon with one of the most die-hard Mariner fans I know, Rick Lukens. And I'm sure we will discuss the stresses of being an M's fan, how it can cause you to lose your hair – that's what I'm blaming – and force you to yell bad words at your radio – as I did yesterday in the car. And maybe Rick can talk me into staying true to the team, though I probably couldn't have picked a worse week to re-examine my commitment, that's for sure.

• One final note. The alma mater – UC Irvine – moved into the NCAA men's volleyball finals thanks to a relatively easy semifinal victory over Penn State – the come-from-behind Anteaters only fell behind one game before winning three straight and the match. On Saturday, UCI will face the hated USC Trojans (really, other than folks who attended the school, does anyone root for USC?), who are hosting the championship. Wonder if the crowd will be larger than the ones USC drew to basketball games? It has to be, right?

•••

• Washington State: Don’t miss Christian Caple's morning blog post today. It's chock full of news, notes, links and Mike Leach's best quotes from the spring. … The biggest piece of news Christian passes along is the football game with UNLV has been moved up a day, to Friday, Sept. 14, and will be broadcast live on ESPN. Think the Leach hire had something to do with that? … The biggest news in the conference – unless you think it's the fact spring meetings are going on – is another defection from Stanford. Athletic director Bob Bowlsby (at right), the architect of the recent success, is leaving to become Big 12 commissioner.

• Gonzaga: Assistant coach Ray Giacoletti interviewed with Illinois State's athletic director yesterday and seems to still be a candidate for the head coaching position.

• Eastern Washington: Jim Allen relays the story of an Eagle vaulter who just inches away from making her country's Olympic team.

• Idaho: Today just might be the beginning of the end of the WAC as we know it, with San Jose State and other schools ready to announce they are bolting the conference. Where does that leave the Vandals? Out in the cold, probably.

• Whitworth: Christian's college baseball notebook throws some more love the Pirates' way, after they qualified for their first NCAA Division III tournament.

• Shock: Spokane has a short trip to Salt Lake City for tonight's game. But as Jim Meehan notes, the outcome could have consequences for a long time.

• Chiefs: The WHL finals opened in Edmonton on the night of the league's draft (we have the Chiefs' picks in this story) and the host team topped Portland, 3-2.

• Preps: Baseball and track took the spotlight yesterday, despite the off-and-on rain. … The Mead boys won their fifth consecutive GSL track title and Greg Lee was there to document it. … Gonzaga Prep evened its district series with Mead at a game apiece, 2-0. Mike Vlahovich has the story. … Mike also has a baseball notebook. … The rain couldn't stop the GNL's soccer playoffs but did get the 3A baseball.

• Mariners: So what can we say about a six-game losing streak? That it has all the earmarks of the beginnings of last year's 17-game streak? No, we won't be that cruel. But if you remember the philosophy of the psychologist in “The Natural,” losing is insidious, as insidious as a social disease – and as hard to excise. And that disease seems to be infecting the M's clubhouse. But the cure may be on the way. They return home tonight to play the Minnesota Twins, so it's possible they'll get better quickly. … Will anything other than major surgery cure the woes at the top of the lineup? We'll see if Chone Figgins can weather the storm. … The news Mariano Rivera tore his ACL in pregame batting practice (picture) is too big to ignore. Is the 42-year-old, sure Hall of Famer's career over? … The Angels' TV announcers didn't mention Jered Weaver's no-hitter during the broadcast. That's just plain stupid. It's one thing to be superstitious in the dugout. It's another (and just plain unprofessional) to be superstitious in the press box. Though maybe someone on the Yankees' broadcast team mentioned Mariano Rivera never had a major injury on the air just prior to BP yesterday. Then it would be their fault.

• Sounders: Seattle may have a second stringer in front of the net when Philadelphia visits Saturday.

•••

• That's our morning report. As we said, we'll be on the radio today for the first time in a while. You can listen to the discussion here. Until then …


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Jim Allen Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Jacob Thorpe Sports reporter Jacob Thorpe covers Washington State University athletics. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Jim Meehan Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Josh Wright Josh Wright is a freelance correspondent who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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Vince Grippi is the online producer for SportsLink, a product of The Spokesman-Review.

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