SAN ANTONIO – This day was a long time coming for Jason Stripling.
A fifth-year senior, Stripling will line up tonight at the Will linebacker spot against Notre Dame in the Alamodome.
He’ll be playing in front of some 50,000 people, about two dozen of them friends and family.
“They’ve never come (to Pullman),” said Stripling of latter group. “This will be the first game they were at. They were supposed to come to Baylor last year, but Hurricane Ike hit.”
The Stripling fan club has made the five-hour journey from Tyler, Texas (95 miles east of Dallas off Interstate 20) to watch their favorite Washington State University player.
With all those eyes on him, Stripling is feeling a little pressure.
Then again, he repeatedly does.
“There’s always pressure,” he said. “Especially being on the defense, and being looked as a leader. You want to do right. Have all the young people follow you into the right direction. So there’s always pressure.”
Those young people who make up the overwhelming majority of WSU’s roster call him “Papa Strip,” mostly because he’s been in the program for five grueling years and partly because of his 5-foot-11, 242-pound build.
Papa Strip’s journey to a starting spot – he has 23 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and has started every game in WSU’s 1-6 season – was a winding one.
As a true freshman, he played in 10 of WSU’s 11 games, mostly on special teams. He redshirted in 2006, then was academically ineligible the next season.
Last year started promising, despite the coaching change that meant the group that brought him so far from home was no longer here. He had eight tackles in the Oklahoma State opener, but a shoulder injury two weeks later ended his season.
Now he’s back on the field, and he can look back at five years in Pullman with the wisdom born of experience.
“Nah,” he said when asked if this was how he imagined his college career would go. “It’s not what I envisioned. Especially playing as a true freshman. But, that’s how it ended up, so …”
It’s little wonder, then, as Stripling works toward his social science degree, he can describe the group coming to the Alamodome today in a few words.
“They’re proud of me.”
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