Within two weeks, Shawn McWashington lost two grandparents.
“It’s been real hard on my family, everybody,” the Washington State junior receiver said Wednesday night.
The situation was compounded early this week when McWashington, attempting to return from the second funeral, found himself afflicted by what seemed like a cruel streak of bad luck.
It started Tuesday morning in Seattle and ended here Wednesday afternoon.
Along the way, McWashington became stranded in two airports, caught a nasty cold, was turned down trying to rent a car and had his own Mazda 626 damaged after his girlfriend lost control on an icy road.
No one was hurt in the accident, which happened while she was on her way to pick up McWashington at Spokane International Airport. The car appeared undamaged, too, at least until a well-meaning motorist stopped to help.
“It was fine until the dude tried to tow it out and ripped off half the radiator,” an exasperated McWashington said.
Through it all, the 21-year-old Seattle native has managed to keep on his Apple Cup game face.
“I’m ready to play the game,” he said. “I went back home, talked to a lot of people. If I wasn’t ready to go before, I sure am now.”
Translation: McWashington bantered with a couple friends on the Washington football team, including lifelong friend Kyle Roberts, a backup safety and son of Huskies assistant Al Roberts.
“I talked to Kyle. I talked to (receiver) Fred Coleman for a minute,” McWashington said, beginning to laugh. “Kyle was just telling me about how everybody was going to try to knock my head off.”
Jousting aside, McWashington is hurting. He was limited early in the season by an ankle injury and has never become integrated into the offense, his 16 catches ranking seventh on the team.
“Each week I was getting a little better, but the season just came to an end so quick,” he said. “It’s been real hard on me.
“A big game (today) would do a lot, just to help me emotionally to stay strong.”
You’ve got to be-Leaf
WSU quarterback Ryan Leaf has spent the last several days blaming himself for everything but the weather, even suggesting the Cougars might consider benching him in favor of freshman backup Steve Birnbaum.
In short, Leaf called himself a loser, citing WSU’s three-game losing streak and his own 5-6 record as the starter, and said statistics show he hasn’t improved since last season. “I look at that and I think he’s grown up a lot by saying that to a lot of the press and the papers, about how it’s his fault,” McWashington said.
“But we know it’s not his fault and he knows it’s not his fault.”
Coach Mike Price dismissed Leaf’s harsh assessment as typical for a young, frustrated quarterback.
“I think he’s made tremendous strides,” Price said. “We’ve watched last year’s Apple Cup several times and he’s a much, much better quarterback than he was a year ago.”
Leaf made his first start in last year’s Apple Cup, raising expectations with a 22-for-33, 291-yard performance in WSU’s 33-30 loss. That followed a similar showing the previous week, when he took over early in a loss to Stanford.
“How he finished the last two games last season, everybody expected him to be the leader, to step in and take us to the promised land,” McWashington said. “But for a quarterback to come into the Pac-10, it’s hard.
“It’s a process, it takes time. Rarely does anybody come in and set the league on fire. Corey (Dillon, Washington’s 1,400-yard rusher) has, but he’s not at quarterback.”
Gone and nearly forgotten
Running backs Rashaan Shehee of UW and Miguel Meriwether of WSU provided heroic performances in last season’s Apple Cup, but neither will play today.
Shehee suffered a leg injury early in UW’s season, forcing him to watch while Dillon set several school records. Meriwether, meanwhile, has missed more than four games with a back injury.
You guys got Space Invaders?
Most college football players profess to be Nintendo masters. McWashington, Shehee and Coleman are no exception.
“They cannot touch me in Bill Walsh College Football,” McWashington boasted.
“I told them, we can play any place, any time.
“We can set up the TV at halftime of the game if Coach Price let’s me get out early. I’ll take it to ‘em.”
Video basketball is another matter.
“Man, I had some problems,” McWashington allowed, but only when pressed. “I think I might have got 80-point ruled or something.”
Price: Darling on the rise
WSU senior James Darling could be one of the first linebackers chosen in the upcoming NFL draft, according to Price.
“The pro scouts tell me that he’s one of the best, if not the best linebacker in the western United States,” Price said.
“He’s just soaring as far as the NFL prospect sheets are concerned.”
Darling, a former walk-on from Kettle Falls, leads the Pac-10 with 125 tackles.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.