Time out for a little provincialism.
In choosing up teams, “who?” matters and “where?” doesn’t. But with football drills beginning at Washington State this weekend, we couldn’t help but notice something.
It seems a football player got there from here.
When the veterans returned to campus, their first order of rookie hazing Friday morning was to make Steve Gleason stand up and sing the Cougar fight song.
“I didn’t know it at first,” said Gleason, a freshman not three months removed from Gonzaga Prep, “but they gave me a piece of paper.”
Now, the one advantage a Spokane kid is supposed to have over the California import at Wazzu is a familiarity with the fight song - but we’ll let that pass. While we’re at it, let’s not overstate the significance of either the lack of Spokane representation in recent years or any modest gains.
Our city’s schools haven’t exactly been truck farms for Pac-10 football talent - and the bottom line at WSU has hardly suffered.
Still, there used to be a half dozen or so Spokane names on the WSU roster season after season. Two years ago, the count was down to one. Now with Gleason, Shane Doyle and Mead’s Cory Solomon, a walk-on who’s earned a scholarship as a backup center, it’s up to three - four if you go county-wide and include Cheney’s Jon Ottenbreit.
And it’s been seven years since WSU last recruited an eventual starter - Jim Eucker and Jason Hanson - from our town.
Doyle has no theories on the subject, but he can suggest a solution.
The sophomore from Shadle Park is in a crowded fraternity of players eager to carve out their own identities on a high-profile defense whose ringleaders, it seemed, had been around forever. Doyle’s particular nemesis was All-American defensive end DeWayne Patterson, recently cut by the Seattle Seahawks.
“That’s why I stayed in Pullman this summer,” said Doyle. “I wanted to get stronger and faster. I know DeWayne’s gone now and I have a chance. I’m ready. I know this is my best chance.”
On Saturday, Doyle and junior college transfer Da’vid Evans resumed slugging it out for the job available opposite Dwayne Sanders, the only returning starter on the defensive line who may well slide over to Patterson’s weakside end.
What Doyle brings to the party is about 15 extra pounds (up to 240), a bench press he hiked over the summer to 350 pounds and improved speed which allowed him to “do the 300-yard shuttle run just as fast as the linebackers did,” he said.
But his real gains came last spring.
“When I came here (as a freshman), I wasn’t prepared,” Doyle admitted. “I had such a good career at Shadle, I thought I was the man. I saw the athletes here and what I was up against and my confidence just dropped.
“But last spring, I got to play with the No. 1 defense. I made some plays and played pretty well and that gave me a boost.”
Gleason may well endure some of the same anxieties, but he seems to be off to a faster start.
He’s one of three incoming freshmen coach Mike Price feels could contribute this fall. Not in the lineup - he’s stuck at weakside linebacker behind Chris Hayes, whose name the Cougars are floating for the Butkus Award - but on special teams, at least.
“He’s been impressive,” acknowledged defensive coordinator Bill Doba. “Of course, we haven’t been in pads yet, but he’s strong, he’s intelligent, he learns quickly and he ran a 4.6.
“If he can play on every special team and travel and be a backup, then I think it’s worth playing a freshman. If he’s going to be on just a couple (special teams) then unless we get into injury problems, we’ll probably redshirt him. I think if you let a kid play as a freshman, even if it’s special teams, he’s a lot better and more confident and ready to play than if he stands down there holding a dummy on scout teams for a year.”
Offered Gleason, “It would be nice not to (redshirt), I suppose, but if you’re ready to play, you’re ready to play. If not, I’ll have another year to get better and bigger.”
The process of recruiting has been defined several ways - “inexact science” and “crapshoot” being popular. Mostly, you just can’t always get what you want. Wazzu actually pitched hard for two Spokane players last winter, but lost Ferris kicker/ receiver Randy Jones to the Huskies. To understand the regard for Jones, understand that UW has scholarshipped just one freshman kicker before - Spokane’s Travis Hanson - and did so this time despite NCAA sanctions limiting them to 15 signees.
One glance at Gleason would not establish him as an obvious recruiting coup. At 6-feet and 200 pounds, he has that Opie Taylor-with-muscles look on a field peopled with giants.
But to say “yes” to WSU at recruiting time, Gleason had to say “no” to Stanford, where he took his other visit - and when can you last recall a Spokane athlete doing that?
“It was kind of this football program vs. their academics,” Gleason said. “Education is important to me, but I can get the education I want here.
“This place just didn’t seem as businesslike. Coaches and players seemed more on the same level. They have the same mentality I do. And having the No. 1 defense in the country here didn’t hurt.”
That’s right. In choosing up teams, “what?” matters, too.