PULLMAN – Considering how excited Clay McGuire was last season about Joe Dahl’s potential, it can’t really be considered a surprise that Dahl finds himself in the mix for playing time along Washington State’s offensive line.
But the fact that the walk-on, third-year sophomore is already taking nearly every rep with the No. 1 unit at left guard, not even halfway through the spring? Well, not many expected that.
Maybe McGuire did. WSU’s offensive line coach said that even as he redshirted last season due to NCAA transfer rules, it was clear that Dahl was one of the top six or seven linemen on the roster.
Now, he looks like one of the top five.
“Since he started working with the 1s, his mentality and approach hasn’t changed,” McGuire said. “He’s continued to do what got him in the spot and the position to compete for that spot.”
Dahl spent last season on the scout team, where he played tackle. That’s the position the Spokane native played at University High School, and then, too, as a freshman at Montana, though McGuire wants WSU’s linemen to be able to play multiple positions. The top five will play, somehow. Hence Dahl’s move to guard.
“The first few days were a little shaky getting the feel of things,” Dahl said, “but I feel like I’ve gotten used to the position.”
He would have preferred to attend WSU out of high school – the Cougars offered late, but “I kind of handled the recruiting process wrong, and committed (to Montana) too early,” Dahl said – so he left Montana after one season and showed up in Pullman ready to play for coach Mike Leach and his new staff, this time without a scholarship.
Dahl didn’t tell them he was coming, either.
“When I transferred, I didn’t even talk to the coaching staff here, because I hadn’t gotten my release until they were hired,” Dahl said. “So I just kind of showed up here and kind of surprised them, and they said if I played well enough then hopefully I’d get a shot.”
He has, partially because of how relaxed he appears while taking care of his blocking assignments.
“What I like about Joe Dahl is his bad plays are below average, and then his good plays are good plays,” Leach said. “(The bad plays) aren’t just flat-out busts. They’re stuff you can survive. He’s got a calmness and a consistency to him that I think has really helped him develop and step in and play.”
“He’s got a real calm demeanor and he knows the offense really well,” said senior center Elliott Bosch, a fellow Spokane native.
Dahl is listed at 6-foot-4 and says he gained 15-20 pounds during the offseason, checking in now somewhere between 285 and 290. He is hoping to add another 10 pounds before the season starts.
His size made him a promising talent even last season, when he practiced with the scout team and watched as Washington State’s depleted offensive line trudged into the final game of the season with six healthy, eligible players.
“It sucked not being able to play,” Dahl said. “I really wanted to contribute to the team. But playing scout team was a big part. I feel like that helped me evolve as a player, really hitting the strength program and all that.”
That he’s supplanted senior John Fullington for a spot with the No. 1 offensive line group is evidence of how serious Leach and Co. are about encouraging competition. And to Fullington’s credit, McGuire said, he’s responded well. There’s a chance both could play together at some point, because if they’re both good enough to be in the top five, “we’ll figure out a way to get you on the field, whether it’s moving you a spot or bumping a guy out to tackle, whatever it may be.”
But for now, in early April and with nearly five months to go until the season starts, Dahl appears on the right track – for playing time, and for a scholarship.
“Obviously, nothing’s guaranteed in this deal,” McGuire said, “but I would imagine he’s a guy who would earn one pretty quick.”