Arrow-right Camera

Backups add needed support for Cougs

The dedication of backup players such as Reed Lesuma gives the Washington State Cougars a breath of fresh air. (Christopher Anderson)
The dedication of backup players such as Reed Lesuma gives the Washington State Cougars a breath of fresh air. (Christopher Anderson)

PULLMAN – Playing college football isn’t easy. It’s a tough, grueling sport that demands dedication year-round. Summer sweating is followed by the bruises of fall. Winter conditioning begets spring practice.

It’s worth it, however, because of those 12 fall Saturdays. Thousands of people cheering your every move. The adulation of fellow students. Occasional face time on television.

But what if there isn’t that glory? When you do all the same work from Sunday through Friday, and then watch as others make the plays Saturday. When you’re a scout team player, a backup who rarely sees the field. What’s football like then?

Saturday, when Washington State University hosts Oregon State, it’s senior day at Martin Stadium. The Cougars will say goodbye to 15 seniors, many with familiar names.

Kenny Alfred. Xavier Hicks. Andy Mattingly. Dwight Tardy. Tony Thompson. Kevin Lopina.

But there is also a handful of players who will be introduced that most in attendance won’t recognize. Colin Huemmer. Casey Thometz. Andrew Kreutz. Reed Lesuma. Sam Tennant.

This is their lone moment in the spotlight.

Lesuma will represent the group in the lineup against Oregon State. He was called into offensive line coach Harold Etheridge’s office Tuesday and told he would make his first career start at left guard.

“It actually came as a surprise,” Lesuma said Wednesday. “He told me, my last home game here, senior night and everything, they’re giving me the opportunity to start. I was real excited about that.”

The first person he told – off the field – was wife Terri. The two were married last December in Salt Lake City. But the next was brother Vaughn.

Lesuma came to WSU in 2007 with his older brother, a two-year starter at left tackle. Unlike most Cougars, Reed didn’t play youth football. There wasn’t much opportunity in Fiji. But when the family moved back to Hawaii, Reed played a little as a high school senior.

Two years of junior college football – one as a redshirt – preceded his trip to Pullman. He’ll graduate in December and move on to the University of Hawaii, where he’ll work toward a master’s in psychology.

Three years of practice has yielded a handful of offensive plays, most during his first season. This year he’s been on the extra-point and field-goal teams, but he has yet to play on the line of scrimmage.

So why stick around?

“I love it,” he said. “I just enjoy being out here with my teammates, the O-line. Just improving and getting better. Helping the team get better. Anyway I can improve this team, whether it be playing or not.”

Tennant won’t be starting Saturday, but he has the same attitude. In his five years at WSU, the Pullman High graduate has played in seven games, almost all on special teams.

But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had an impact.

“I just come out here and try my best,” he said. “It’s my job to make the team better on the scout team or whatever I’m doing.”

Tennant, who missed the Greyhounds’ State 2A football title by one year, knows what’s expected of him each practice.

“I’ve been out here every day, working hard, not taking a day off,” he said. “I haven’t missed a practice due to injury or illness. So I think being a consistent player out here has helped the team out.”

During the season, Tennant and others run through position drills before heading over to the scout team. They read cards, see how they are supposed to perform in the opponent’s scheme and try to deliver a good look.

Most scout team players are building a foundation for their career. Others, like Tennant, are playing for the love of the game and their teammates.

“I enjoy it, it’s a good sport, lots of teamwork,” Tennant said. “It’s a lot of fun testing your abilities against other people.”

Tennant said he was “born and raised a Coug.” If he had to make the choice again, he would still walk on at Washington State.

That attitude and work ethic is appreciated.

“These guys have shown a tremendous amount of perseverance,” coach Paul Wulff said. “I’m very proud of them and their work and their ability to hang tough and keep going.”