Earlier this season I wanted to talk with the five fifth-year seniors on the Washington State roster. They stepped on the Pullman campus the same time I did and went through the end of the Bill Doba era, the begining of the Paul Wulff tenure, the worst year imaginable (other than, for them, the Apple Cup), a long haul toward respectability, and, finally, a senior season marked with ups and downs. We sat down together after a team meal and they answered my idiotic questions. The responses are way too long to fit into a newspaper, but work well in this format. So hit the link and you can read their thoughts on everything from the wildest guy they played with to their most memorable play.
Five years is a long time to stay together. According to public health statistics, 20 percent of all U.S. marriages end within five years. Which is funny, because of the 19 sophomores-to-be academically on the Washington State roster when Paul Wulff took over four years ago, just over 20 percent will finish this season, five years after they enrolled in Pullman. Three players finished in four seasons but for a variety of reasons the other 11 won't be playing Saturday when the Cougars host Utah on Senior Day.
We gathered together those five fifth-year seniors in Boulder, Colo., earlier this year to talk about their experiences at Washington State. The conversation took more than a half hour and was often interrupted by laughter. Most of what was said appears below.
The five fifth-year seniors?
• quarterback Marshall Lobbestael (ML in the answers below);
• running back Logwone Mitz (LM);
• punter and former quarterback Dan Wagner (DW);
• offensive lineman B.J. Guerra (BJG);
• and offensive lineman Andrew Roxas (AR).
• Here is the conversation ...
Q: Have you five ever been together like this before?
ML: Not just us five, I don't think.
AR: Us five, no, not like this.
Q: The reason I wanted to get you together was we are all super seniors, we're all graduating – I'm retiring at the end of the year – so I wanted to reminisce about our five years together, if you guys don't mind. I'll open it up with this, all of you guys came in with (coach Bill) Doba and his group of assistants. What brought you guys to WSU?
BJG: I always grew up watching the Cougars, as soon as I moved here. I never really liked UW for some reason, I didn't like the coaches, didn't like anything about the players. I went to the USC game in 2007 and I loved the way we played, the way we fought to the end and the day after coach Doba called me and I committed.
AR: I actually committed the same weekend B.J. did. That was my official visit, '07 against USC. We played them tough. I came up here that summer before that season started and did the summer camp and I really liked how the coaches did things and everything like that. When I saw the atmosphere of WSU, I fell in love with it and I committed right after my trip.
Q: Logwone, did (running backs coach Steve) Broussard have anything to do with it, to play for a guy like that?
LM: Definitely, I knew he had all of his – I guess, all the data that I needed to become the great back that I would have liked to be. He helped me become what I am today, especially pass blocking and how I read my holes when I run the ball.
Q: And you guys, it was Timm (Rosenbach, quarterbacks coach) right?
ML: Yep, I took my trip the Oregon game. We beat 'em at home. I forget, Oregon I think was ranked at the time but it was just like an amazing atmosphere, I had never been to Martin Stadium before. I remember they didn’t offer me right away because they were waiting on some other guys but then coach Doba said they want to offer me and gave me the letter of intent so I could see it. I don’t know why he gave it to me but, it kind of drove me crazy for a little bit. But then he called and offered me a little bit later and I committed right away. I just fell in love with it. Right when I got here I liked the way the coaches did everything. I came Saturday morning so I went around with the coach during the pregame stuff. It was an awesome atmosphere. The way the guys carried themselves before the game. The way the coaches were excited about the game and handled it, it was just something that stuck with me and I just wanted to be a part of it.
Q: You walked on, right Dan?
Q: Were there other places that offered you?
DW: Yea, an offer from Montana and my dad grew up with Levensellers back in Tacoma, so that’s kind of how he sent a tape to coach Levy and (he) offered a walk-on spot. I always thought I wanted to play at the highest level I could if I had an opportunity because at the end of the day I wouldn't have any regrets, good or bad, because I could have gone and played two sports at a smaller school. I could have had great success doing that, but always would have wondered, what if? So that’s how I kind of made my decision to walk on and give it a try.
Q: Anything you remember about freshman year?
DW: Coming from a Catholic school (Jesuit High in Portland), you never really heard guys swearing and cussing. So the first couple meetings and days of practice it was just kind of like, wow, a whole different atmosphere. So that was my eye-opening experience.
AR: St. Francis (High), definitely not like that.
Q: I remember one play at practice that year, I don't know if you guys remember, when Jeshua (Anderson) ran into a light pole?
(multiple groans): Oh yeah, during practice.
AR: That was scary. The one thing I remember about that is the media guy was trying to walk over and coach Doba was like, "get away." I remember that. Trying to protect his guys I guess.
Q: After your freshman year, everything changes. How did you guys feel about that when it originally happened?
ML: I remember talking to coach Rosey. All the quarterbacks were saying, "Coach Rosey wants to meet with us" and I hadn’t met with him yet. I went and talked to coach Rosey and he just said, "Yeah, you know I'm probably going to be gone." Then he told me what he thought about me, the reason why he recruited me. He told me where he saw my potential, where he saw my career going if I worked hard. And then I asked him, "Coach Wulff is one of the guys up for the job do you think he will keep you?" He said no, it was time for him to move on. At that point I knew he was going to be gone, so the guy who recruited me was going to be gone but he gave me a lot of confidence just in that one meeting just by telling me the potential he saw in me, the reason he recruited me, and the reason why he thought I could compete at this level and that helped me. It gave me a big confidence boost because I didn’t really know what was going to happen after.
Q: You guys spend so much time with your assistant coaches. Andrew, you went from one of the more aggressive assistants (line coach George Yarno) to Harold (Etheridge), who seemed quieter. Was he?
AR: He was more laid back, way more laid back. I remember in meetings my freshman year I'd come into meetings just scared that he'd, coach Yarno would call on me, in case I messed up. But it was completely different after that because with coach Yarno he will get mad at you if you mess up but at the same time he will try to coach you, try to fix it, go through the steps why you got it wrong. The thing that was cool is he will get mad at you if you do bad but praise you if you do good, that was the biggest thing. With coach Etheridge it was really different, he was just real laid back, you'd just joke around with him it was completely different.
Q: Not many of the guys in your class stuck it out. What did you see? Was it not being able to adjust to the change? Or was it different for each individual?
LM: I saw guys that thought that being picked on draft day is just going to come to you. That you don’t have to work for it, because we had a hell of a lot of talent on the team, even after (quarterback Alex) Brink and them left but some of that talent didn’t even make it through that year. Technically they would have still been on the team but they didn’t even make it through that year so they were gone with Brink's class, that were in our class. They just thought that it would come easy to them, they thought that they were on a higher level, or whatever you want to call it, than other people. Not everybody had to do the same things, and every team has that, and there are still people like that. But as far as that was the majority of the team back then and now it's such a small percent it's not making a big effect on the team as it obviously did for the past three years.
Q: That brings up a point. That sophomore, or redshirt freshman year, was that the toughest year you've ever had in sports?
AR: Before that I was used to winning games, you know what I mean? Even the year before that, we at least had won five games. We were like a win away from becoming bowl eligible. That was tough because I had never been a part of a team that had lost like that.
Q: What do you think you learned from that year?
AR: Playing through adversity was, for me, was the biggest thing.
AR: Keep pushing when it gets rough on everyone.
LM: Mental toughness. Mental strength is probably the biggest thing in everybody's game whether they think so or not. You know, some people have specific reasons (for quitting). Once (you've gone) through that one time, it probably will never happen again in your life because you won't allow it to happen.
Q: Anything positive about that year? Or does everybody just have awful memories?
ML: Yea, I blew my knee out that year. It sucked. It was tough. To be honest with you, there are guys that I feel still should be sitting at this table with us. The two guys that come to my mind right away are Tyrone (Aire Justin, who lost his senior year after failing a drug test) and Eric Block (injured and had to give up football). If you would have asked me, is Block going to make it? I would have been like yea, he is going to be one of our team leaders. You kind of saw like the business side and almost like the raising the level to college from high school. It's not a happy ending for everyone. When I got hurt, it was the time for me to see everything happen and just watch everyone. It was obvious the guys who were going to get through it because, even though we were having the shittiest year ever, there were certain guys who would just push through it. They stayed the same throughout. All of us are part of that group, but there were other guys too. So it kind of just I mean, the guys who are going to withstand through adversity just stand out.
Q: Off that, let me ask you. In the five years you guys were here, which guy, just one guy, did more of that, withstanding through adversity?
AR: Marsh, when he got his first start was at Oregon, that was my sophomore year, I had just came back, that was my first game after my knee injury too. I stayed out for three games. He (took) Jeff coming in as the starting quarterback really well and I'm just proud of how he handled it. I'm glad he stuck it out with us because I know he could have gone somewhere and been very successful as a quarterback there.
DW: Marsh, I sat in the quarterback rooms with him and (the starter), it’s a spot that every guy wants to have, to get a taste of it, and then to hurt your knee, and have another guy come in, it takes a lot. So I respect him sticking it out.
Q: So who was the craziest guy you played with?
(Multiple): Andy Mattingly and Andy Roof.
ML: When we were doing winter conditioning I was in Roof's conditioning group, we were in group two together. It was one of the best winter conditionings I've had in my life, just the most fun. Because working hard next to him was so easy because he was 110 percent, run through a brick wall no matter what every second of every freaking drill. I was kind of young still when he came back. He wasn’t there our true freshman year. It was insane. He was just so awesome to work with and he respected guys who worked hard no matter how old you were and so that was something that I saw in him. I respected that, he didn’t look down on guys just because they were younger or walked on. He respected everyone who busted their ass. I remember one time he did the whole winter conditioning with a dip in and in the parking lot after he was smoking a cig, and I remember thinking, "this guy is insane." It was ridiculous.
Q: It's been a long haul. Is the best thing that has happened for you the last part of last year, the offseason, then this year? It seems like you have turned a corner, with a different attitude.
BJG: Yea, for sure there is a different attitude. I think after last year, well, halfway through last year knowing that we played so well against Oregon for me that we played well against Oregon we kind of, I don’t know, maybe opened a lot of people's eyes that we can compete with anybody and I think that carried over and I think these guys wanted more and more to get better each and every day, every week. I know for sure in this off season I've seen so much improvement in guys in their attitudes not only in the weight room but out in the field, going to class, you know. There is like a cohesiveness. I remember probably the biggest thing before last year guys kind of scattered they did their own thing when things were going bad they scattered. I just felt like (strength coach Darin) Lovett put us in situations in the off-season to help build on that, I guess.
AR: He put us in situations that would make us pull together to be able to respond as groups. And those are the guys that we wouldn't usually hang out with, so that kind of built chemistry with a guy that you usually wouldn’t talk with at practice or whatever. So that gave us an opportunity to get to know each other better. And that is the biggest change, we know a lot more guys now than the seniors did when we first came in. We are closer as a team.
Q: You guys have been through hell. When you don't win football games, when you put that much work in and never get that reward on Saturday, it has to be the worst feeling in the world. Do you think you can speak with a feeling of authority, because you know what the low was? Some guys in the locker room haven't seen it nearly as bad. You know what it takes to dig out of that type of hole. Do you feel like you have a leadership built through scars?
ML: I feel like we are not really out of it yet, I mean we've won two games but I feel like we are definitely a better team, but I feel like we can't be satisfied yet there is no way that we have proven anything yet. We know that we have the potential to do it and to turn things around and I feel like, if anything, we just got money in the bank, as (receivers coach Mike Levenseller) says all the time. I think us and the four year guys, we have money in the bank because we've been through a lot, we have worked though it, but at the same time its not where we think we are on a pedestal or at a different level than other guys. I just feel we have money in the bank, a little but more creditability just because of our experience.
LM: Just because we have more experience and a bit more knowledge in certain situations, more than another person, it doesn’t give us the right to think we are higher than them. They can still voice their opinion and speak their mind and still be a leader as well. Whether they are a freshman, sophomore, junior, it doesn’t matter. Which is kind of where we connect with the whole team-bonding thing where everybody's equal. There aren’t two people that can only lead this team, there aren't four people that can only lead this team. Any person can lead it at any given time and however many people step up to do that throughout the season, because everybody is going to need to do it at some point, no matter what type of leadership it is, that depends on the individuals, but as a team it's looking a lot better than it has in the past and it is obviously showing too.
Q: I'm going to ask you each individually. What's your favorite play while you've been at Washington State? Andrew, was it Dwight Tardy's run against UCLA (when Roxas was a freshman) because you just pancaked someone?
AR: Yep, that was it. It was my first start. It was really exciting. That’s exactly what it was. You got it.
BJG: Against Stanford, two years ago I believe, when we played them here at home. It was a run to the left, they had pressure coming off the edge, the 3-tech (tackle) tried to slide inside and I just got underneath him and he literally was just sliding on the turf and I just pancaked him. It was probably one of the best feelings I've had. (AR: Was that Sione?) Yea. (AR: Sione Fua man, that’s a good player)
DW: I think getting the opportunity to play in the Apple Cup (last year), that’s just a special memory. I was from Oregon so I always thought it would be Oregon, Oregon State kind of a Civil War game but this had the same magnitude, same feel. You get out there and it's just a pretty cool feeling. It was a lot of fun.
Q: I'm guessing I know what yours is too, Logwone. The run against Washington, yeah. Do you remember that? (LM: Definitely). Do you think about it much?
LM: No, I try and create another run that can be done, rather than in the past that has already been done. It comes along with the imagery and everything that we have been doing as a team as well. I got to get another one in there. I mean a couple more but you know, got to start with one. But that was definitely the No. 1 play that I liked. Seeing the hole open up and just green turf and just run. Even though I was really tight, I almost got caught, but I didn't.
ML: For me it was probably the end of that Apple Cup. I was on crutches so it's kind of weird, I guess. I remember, Gary (Rodgers) and I were watching it together, standing up on the bench together and it was awesome because we had all Crimson jerseys on and that was sick and then Lo's run with BJ and Roe blocking and then Nico's kick. It was some of my close friends just all enjoying the game. We won and it was just like, storming the field it was pretty sick even though I almost got trampled on crutches. I would say that is one of my favorite memories because I had gone through a lot watching that season, I remember watching us struggle and not being able to go through, it was like torture almost. But seeing that last couple quarters and then that overtime, was the best feeling ever.
Q: When you look back at your time here, what's the most important thing that came out of this time?
LM: Really the whole experience. I mean, whatever you do from here – I mean, having the opportunity to be here and doing what you've done for the past four to five years or go to graduate school and do whatever you do there, sets what you are going to do for the rest of your life. You may not be doing whatever you come out of Washington State for your career. You know you might get a job, then get a career job. This was kind of the setting stone, I mean that’s kind of for anybody, you know some people just fall off like we were talking about and don’t get to take advantage of that. However, we can, and we can definitely utilize the new programs that they have got, especially with the career program people just want to hire a student athletes from college and then we also got some cougars that own businesses throughout the nation that we can look forward to contacting and getting some inside scoops on (building a network) exactly. That’s what it all comes down to in this day and age.
AR: For me, it's not the end product. We say it a lot, enjoy the process. And that's what it was for me. Building life-long friendships. I know I'm going to know these guys. I'm going to keep in touch with everybody, teammates from my freshman year all the way through my senior year. We are going to keep in touch. It's just enjoying every single thing going through off-seasons together, laughing, celebrating, throwing-up together, all that stuff. That’s what it was. Enjoying the process, just having more brothers I guess now.
Q: If after your freshman year, someone would have told you how tough it was going to be and offered you a free transfer, looking back now, would you have taken it?
BJG: Just looking back at it now one of the biggest adversities I faced, as far as football goes, was being moved over from D-line to O-line. As soon as Wulff said that, I wanted to transfer then and there. Ro and everybody, Kenny, Marsh, I mean we've lived together four out of five years, they just encouraged me to stay, Ro helped me out a ton just adjusting to the offensive nature really, and that’s probably the biggest thing for me.
AR: Would we have left if given the opportunity? For me, I don’t think I could have either because we have spent so much time with each other that freshman year. We actually got into trouble going into sophomore year, we were actually talking about looking around and stuff, nothing really serious, we decided no, we couldn't leave our guys man, these are our guys. Washington State really is a special place, you hear quotes from all these older guys, it really is, you go there and you fall in love with the atmosphere. It’s the people, you go there for the people that are there. It's not the team or the coaches, you go there for the people who you come in with. I feel like that's what I would leave people with, I guess.
• That's it for now. Until later ...