PULLMAN – If there ever was a player born to be a Cougar football player it was Cameron Elisara.
The son of Matt, a WSU defensive lineman, an All-Pac-10 selection who helped the Cougars to the 1981 Holiday Bowl, a long-time Cougar season-ticket holder for goodness sakes. And son to Cheryl, also a WSU graduate who used to work in the Sports Information Office. And brother of Travis, who had a stint as WSU’s scout team quarterback.
A kid with a million Cougar shirts who would hum the WSU fight song at basketball practice.
“I don’t know how strong a little kid can be a fan of a certain place,” Cameron said, “but I did enjoy going to the games with the family. It was the way I was raised, it was what I was born into.”
And now he’s a Husky.
A redshirt junior defensive lineman who has blossomed under the Steve Sarkisian regime, losing weight, gaining strength and quickness, recording his first career sack and tackles for loss this season. A stalwart in the new scheme, coming off a stinger that caused him to miss the last three games in which the Huskies gave up 115 points.
But just how did such a lifelong Cougar become a Husky?
“They didn’t really show a whole lot of interest,” Matt said of the Cougars. “I don’t know if they thought he was going to automatically go to WSU, but I think any 16-, 17-, 18-year-old kid is going to really feel (wanted) if you’re coming around, sending letters, calling. They feel they really show their interest by doing those things.
“I don’t think WSU did that.”
It’s obvious the elder Elisara wasn’t happy with WSU’s pursuit – or lack thereof – as Cameron prepared to leave Ferris High in 2006. He believes the Cougars could have reached out more prominently, like UW and Oregon, Cameron’s two most aggressive suitors.
Talk to members of Bill Doba’s coaching staff and they remember the process differently. Though none would speak for the record, one former assistant said, “They wanted a commitment after his sophomore year. We weren’t going to do that.”
Whatever the reason, it was Cameron who made the final choice.
“It was just the way recruiting went,” Cameron said. “Washington just came out to be a more preferable school for me to go to. And then, I just kind of wanted to make my own legacy.
“I had grown up around Washington State. I wanted to step out of the box and do my own thing.”
Since his son has become a Husky, Matt has had to don the apparel of a school he disliked intensely while at WSU from 1979 to 1981. That school, by posting a 23-10 Apple Cup win in 1981, cost Elisara’s Cougars a one-in-a-generation trip to the Rose Bowl. But the crimson remains, in his blood and his closet.
Last summer he and Cheryl, who live in Chehalis after spending most of their post-college life in Spokane, made a trip to Mount St. Helens. There, Cheryl snapped a photo of Matt with the volcano in the background. They sent it to Cameron. A text came back quickly.
“He texts back and says, ’well, it looks better except for one thing,’ ” Matt said, laughing. “He was referring to my crimson shirt. I thought, ’oh my gosh. If I wear anything crimson, he doesn’t care very much for it.’ ”
“I have not thrown all my Cougar stuff away, I still have them,” Matt added, saying he only wears his WSU items around the house and in the neighborhood. Usually, when he’s out in public, he’s wearing his UW purple. And rooting for the Dawgs.
That’s what he and Cheryl will be doing Saturday, sitting in the parents’ section, wearing Cameron’s No. 99 jersey. Cameron will be in the middle of the action, trying to hang a defeat on the school he once passionately rooted for.
“I’m just glad I’m back for this game,” Cameron said, “after being out for these past three. I’m hoping to come in and make something happen, make my lasting impression on the Apple Cup.
“I’m excited to see how it goes.”