PASADENA, Calif. – There is no way Kevin Kooyman thought he would get the call.
There was no way the defensive end would ever represent Washington State University at the Pac-10 media. His last shot, he was sure, passed last year when center Kenny Alfred was picked to sit with coach Paul Wulff at media day.
After all, Kooyman was a senior, ready to embark on his last year as a Cougar and ready to graduate with a degree in management operations in the spring.
But little things can change big plans, as Kooyman learned just a few weeks later. And because of that, there was Kooyman on Thursday morning, sitting on a stage in the middle of the Rose Bowl, talking about the Cougars’ chances coming of a 1-11 season.
After beginning that season with four tackles (including a sack) against Stanford, the senior was doing the usual scrimmage drills the next Wednesday. A hit, a twinge and a partially torn posterior cruciate ligament later, Kooyman was out of the Hawaii game.
Weeks of rehab followed, with Kooyman making efforts to get back on the field.
“I tried to come back for Oregon,” Kooyman said, “and I taped my knee up, put a huge brace on it and I couldn’t even move without it hurting. We tried, but it just didn’t work out for me.”
So Kooyman worked on his knee and watched practices and games. Finally, it hit him. He might not play the rest of his last year.
“The doctor said if I played, I would be able to play at probably 60, 70 percent,” near the end of the season, Kooyman said.
That wasn’t good enough.
So, despite his academic progress, despite a pull to start his life, despite having spent his four years in Pullman battling minor injuries, Kooyman decided to apply for medical redshirt year. He got it.
But it has to be asked, what brought him back?
“I don’t know,” Kooyman admitted before trying to explain.
“After being hurt and seeing all the losses, you could tell the team wasn’t into everything, wasn’t really into the games,” he said. “I just felt like, if I got fully recovered, my knee, this next year would be the better opportunity for me and for the team, to have a successful season.
“It was just really frustrating because we just didn’t have that trust among the defense.”
So he spent the summer trying to build that trust. And he thinks he and his teammates succeeded.
While every player says the summer was the hardest, Kooyman comes armed with numbers.
There’s a sled he and his defensive linemates must push. On the last day of summer 2009, they pushed it the designated distance 36 times. They celebrated.
This year the same group pushed past 36 by July 4.
“This Friday, when we have the sled, we’ll probably push it around 50 times,” he said.
All that work will be tested starting Aug. 8, when practice begins, and Sept. 4, when the season kicks off at Oklahoma State. If the Pac-10 media is any indication, having picked WSU to finish last in the conference for the third consecutive year, expectations are not high. Except among Kooyman and his sled-pushing buddies.
“It is a motivation,” Kooyman said of the choice. “We knew that we were going to be picked last. It’s happened the last two years. And of course, with a one-win season, with a nonconference win, of course people were going to pick us to be last. And of course people don’t believe in us.
“But, you know, we believe in ourselves. That’s all we care about.”