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Peyton Pelluer’s return was breath of fresh air for Washington State

Washington State  linebacker Peyton Pelluer  runs the ball in for a touchdown during the second half of a  Sept. 9, 2017, game at Martin Stadium in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – An otherwise dim offseason for the Washington State football team was offered a short window of relief in late January.

It came straight from the NCAA, of all places.

On Jan. 25, between the Cougars learning of Tyler Hilinski’s suicide and the departure of the next assistant coach, inside linebackers coach Ken Wilson spilled some good news on his Twitter account, presumably only after he received Peyton Pelluer’s OK.

Pelluer, the well-known middle linebacker who’d been a general and captain for WSU’s defense before sustaining a season-ending foot fracture, had applied for a medical hardship waiver that if approved, would grant him another season of college eligibility.

When Pelluer got the green light, Wilson was the first to know. Pelluer’s mother got the second call.

“I had to let coach know that I was coming back,” Pelluer said. “He was pretty ecstatic.”

On the heels of WSU’s second spring practice, Pelluer spoke at length Saturday about the process that led to his return – something that wasn’t always so certain, even if the linebacker felt confident his case would prevail.

“We had a pretty solid plan in place,” he said. “Our trainers and our compliance people, they did a great job of helping me out with every step and it took awhile, it took a little longer to hear back from the NCAA and the Pac-12 than we wanted it to. So it was a little nerve-wracking there, but the good thing is that I got the extra year and that’s what matters and it’s a blessing to be back.”

Pelluer may have lost some sleep as the waiver process dragged on, but his head coach didn’t.

“That one, just within the framework of the rule, it’s pretty much a slam dunk,” Mike Leach said. “If he hadn’t gotten it, we would’ve appealed it because it’s so within the rule.”

Pelluer was a fifth-year senior in 2017 and already the most veteran linebacker on the Cougars’ roster. That now makes him a unicorn in the college football universe: a sixth-year player who could be celebrating his 25th birthday before the Cougars potentially play in their fourth consecutive bowl game.

“I kind of feel like the grandfather of the group,” he said. “We joke around all the time about how old I am compared to these guys, but it doesn’t matter. We’re all out here doing the same thing, just having fun playing the game that we love.”

Pelluer was one of WSU’s top defensive assets before he fractured his foot, but his value to the Cougars didn’t completely dissipate after the injury. Pelluer’s acumen and wisdom were vital tools for Wilson’s young linebackers. The group wound up starting two redshirt freshmen – Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers – when Isaac Dotson and Nate DeRider went down with injuries, and Pelluer made it his misson to mentor both.

Now, between Pelluer, Woods and Rogers, the Cougars bring back three players who’ve started 48 college games.

“They’re not just young guys,” Pelluer said, “they’re young guys with experience and they’re getting older day by day.”

Now Pelluer has at least more 12 more games to build on an already accomplished career.

The Sammamish, Washington, native was an All-Pac-12 performer as a redshirt junior when he led the Cougars, and ranked fourth in the conference, with 93 total tackles. Pelluer returned an interception for a touchdown to fuel WSU’s thrilling comeback win over Boise State last season and made 14 tackles against the Broncos.

“I think it’s real important,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of Pelluer’s return. “And plus he’s always been an achiever and a guy that works really hard. He’s kind of a by example guy, but he’s always been one of those guys that feels like he needs to earn his job every day.”

A forewarning for any WSU fan who shows up to Martin Stadium this fall hoping to identify Pelluer by his signature brown locks: You’re better off looking for his No. 47 these days.

“I told myself I was going to get rid of (the hair) after the season and I postponed it,” Pelluer said. “Then I told myself I was going to get rid of it before Midnight Maneuvers and that didn’t happen. Then I was down in California and I was like, I’ll just chop it off here.

“It’s been a little bit of a transition. It feels like something’s been taken away from me but it was bittersweet.”

Leach joked that Pelluer passed on his haircut to freshman quarterback Cammon Cooper, who also wears a full head of brown hair down past his shoulders.

“He’s going to carry on the legacy,” Pelluer said.