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Washington State backup QB taking his cues from … a right tackle?

UPDATED: Sun., Aug. 27, 2017, 9:50 p.m.

Washington State backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski (3) throws during practice last Tuesday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State backup quarterback Tyler Hilinski (3) throws during practice last Tuesday. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Luke Falk’s infatuation with Tom Brady is public knowledge and has been for some time now. It’s been documented time and time again that Washington State’s starting quarterback tries to emulate the New England Patriots star in nearly everything he does – from Brady’s tendencies on the football field to his choices at the dinner table.

“Shoot … he tries to be like (Brady) and all that,” said Tyler Hilinski, Falk’s primary backup at WSU, reaffirming that his teammate’s crush on Brady is still alive and well.

But how about the Cougars’ second-stringer? Who does Hilinski imitate on the field? Probably another NFL signal-caller with off-the-chart arm talent and admirable work ethic, right? Maybe someone like Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers?

None of the above. Hilinski’s role model in football is neither an NFL player or a quarterback. Surprisingly, it’s actually someone on the Cougars’ roster. Someone who occasionally protects Hilinski from ravenous defenders coming around the edge. Someone who, on the line of scrimmage, positions himself in front of the redshirt sophomore QB and two spots to the right.

Wait, Cole Madison?

“He’s just a great leader,” said Hilinski, affirming that yes, the Cougars’ starting right tackle is the player he tries to mimic his game after. “Since I’ve got here, he’s kind of reached out, been like a good older brother to me.”

It’s still an unlikely answer, primarily because Hilinski and Madison don’t have too much in common.

Hilinski is the backup for one of the country’s most prolific quarterbacks. He’s liked by almost everyone, but fans would prefer he never step onto the field. That would probably mean the starter’s injured. The other scenario Hilinski plays? The Cougars have alread buried an opponent and the reserve is called on to give Falk a breather. It happened last year when the Cougars pummeled Arizona, 69-7. Hilinski came in to complete 15-of-17 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

Madison, on the other hand, is an every-down player on the offensive line who earned All-Pac-12 Conference honorable mention last year after making 13 starts at right tackle. Madison earned the “Bone Award” – given weekly to the top’s offensive lineman – three times last year and he’s a fan favorite. If Madison never misses a snap, it’s a great thing for the Cougars.

Hilinski is a trim Californian from the Los Angeles suburbs who keeps his blondy brown hair short at all times. Madison, at 6-foot-5, 314, has the physique of a grizzly bear. With long brown locks that flow out of his football helmet and thick facial hair, the Burien, Washington, native looks like one, too.

Hilinski says Madison can keep his look. That’s one thing the third-year QB won’t inherit from his elder teammate.

“I love his hair, he’s got the whole Head and Shoulders thing going,” Hilinski said, “but it’s not for me. I’m short cut.”

Hilinski agrees it is a bit uncanny that he’s taking his cues from an offensive lineman. But Madison, a tireless worker who’s been the voice of the O-line – and the unit’s ringleader – for a few years now, would set a fine example for almost anybody, Hilinski assures.

“I would say it’s kind of rare,” the QB said. “I mean shoot, he’s a teammate. I don’t really think of it too much as a position group. … Cole is very good at doing his job and that’s one of our team mottos. Be the best at doing your job, be the most excited to play. I just try to be like him because he’s not only a great guy, but a helluva football player, too.”

Hilinski, not Falk, is the one who’s often giving the quarterback group its spunk. He’s always been the bouncy and energetic type, but ever since Hilinski got to WSU, he’s made more of an effort to inject his voice on the field.

He picked up on someone else doing it. Guess who?

“I kind of got it from (Madison) actually,” Hilinski said. “He brings a lot of energy and tempo and that’s kind of rubbed off on me.”

Mike Leach has gushed about Hilinski’s progress this fall – he’d be ready to play, and play admirably if called upon, Leach said – and the WSU coach agreed that his No. 2 brings exuberance that’s especially infectious on the practice field.

Oh, and he has some Falk to him now. Madison’s not the only one who’s left an imprint.

“I think he does a good job providing energy and I think over time, he’s picked up some of Luke’s management skills,” Leach said. “So I think he just needs to keep improving on that.”

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