PULLMAN – Micah Hannam has never been a star, not at Peninsula High in Gig Harbor, Wash., and not at Washington State.
But if he was, and Hollywood wanted to build a television show around the 6-foot-4, 283-pound offensive lineman, it could simply be titled “Survivor.”
Sure, the name’s taken. But after years of barely avoiding getting voted off the island that is the right tackle position, Hannam has grabbed the label as if it were some sort of immunity idol.
“I’ve kept my job by just fighting every single day,” said Hannam this week as he prepares for his 48th – and final – start for Washington State. He’ll do that in 13 days, when the Cougars host Washington in the 103rd Apple Cup.
But it was just a few weeks ago Hannam was a spectator.
After making 42 consecutive starts, tying former guard Mike Utley’s WSU offensive line record, Hannam suffered a concussion against Oregon and was replaced in the lineup the next weekend against Arizona by freshman John Fullington.
It seemed permanent.
But left tackle David Gonzales fractured his right arm against the Wildcats, Fullington was moved to Gonzales’ spot and Hannam was back in the lineup against Stanford.
“They had told me they were going to start John the rest of the year, but Dave broke his arm,” Hannam said. “Because of that I’m still here. And I just keep fighting for it.
“There are young guys like John who are trying to take (my spot) and I don’t like that.”
What senior would? But Hannam, admitting he wishes he received more respect for his efforts, appreciates the motivation.
“I understand where they are coming from,” he said of the coaches’ decisions. “They have jobs, they have to put food on the table and they’re just trying to find out what is best.”
“I told him going out there (this season), ‘I’m trying to look for someone to replace you,’” said first-year offensive line coach Steve Morton, the third position coach Hannam has worked with in five seasons at WSU. “He said, ‘I’ve heard that every year I’ve been here.’”
And not while Bill Doba was the head coach – George Yarno recruited Hannam and was his line coach his first two years – or under Paul Wullf – Harold Etheridge was the line coach the first two seasons – has anyone been able to do it.
“In any business, if I’m the owner, I’m trying to recruit and retain people who are smarter than me, that are better than me,” Morton said. “I’m still the boss, but that makes my organization better. It’s all personnel-driven.
“Now, you also don’t discredit hard work, heart, stick-to-itiveness, resilience, all those adjectives that describes that type of person who takes that challenge personally, who says, ‘No one is going to unseat me.’”
Hannam is that latter type.
Not that he hasn’t been worried. Especially early on.
As a redshirt freshman, his first Pac-10 football game was in Los Angeles. In a packed Coliseum. Against USC and its All-America defensive end, Lawrence Jackson.
The first snap, Jackson blew off the line and sacked quarterback Alex Brink seemingly before Hannam had moved.
“Mr. Lawrence Jackson?” Hannam recalled, laughing. “I remember that. I remember turning around yelling for Alex to run. But he was already on the ground.
“That was my introduction to Pac-10 football.”
Since then, Hannam has learned. Playing tackle in the conference means you are challenged by an athletic, strong, quick defensive end every game.
“He takes challenges extremely well,” is how Wulff describes Hannam. “I wish all players responded to challenges like he does.”
His experience, intelligence – a three-time, first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection, he’ll earn his civil engineering degree this spring – and ability to process information, were all attributes Morton cited when asked Hannam’s strengths.
He’s just not a physical specimen who wows you with athleticism. But it doesn’t matter. The senior is a specimen of another kind. He’s a leader.
“When I showed up here, I was a kid still,” Hannam said. “I was pretty wide-eyed, I didn’t know a lot about stuff. But I met a lot of people here, seen a lot of them come and go, and I think I’m going to leave here a legitimate man.”
“All the time he had John nipping at his heels, he was the first one to help John,” Morton said. “And that’s a true, true, true team player.”
And one whose legacy will survive.
A brave girl jumps from the rocks on the west side of Tubbs Hill as her two friends watch. (Don Sausser/Facebook photo)
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