PULLMAN – Skyler Thomas is probably the Washington State player least in need of a tackling seminar after three games of the 2018 season. The free safety has charted more solo tackles (14) than any of his teammates and more assisted tackles (nine), making him the team’s overall leader with 23 takedowns.
Yet someone’s still offering Thomas instruction prior to WSU’s upcoming game against USC, and it’s not necessarily coming from a defensive coordinator, position coach or team staffer.
Put it this way: It’ll be especially important the redshirt sophomore from Riverside, California, doesn’t whiff on any tackles Friday.
“Moms is in my ear,” Thomas said Monday. “She’s just like, ‘We’ve got all these family members coming,’ and I know a few people on the SC team, and she’s like, ‘Make sure you tackle him, make sure you do this,’ because she kind of has beef going on with the parents.”
Thomas’ closest acquaintance at USC is Stephen Carr, one of two primary running backs for the Trojans this season. Thomas and Carr played in 7-on-7 scrimmages together while both were in high school and Thomas recalls being present when the former five-star tailback received one of his favorite college offers.
“I was there when he got his SC offer. We were at 7-on-7 practice and he was like, ‘I just got offered by SC,’ ” Thomas said. “He’s been real good since I’ve known him. … He was a big-time player and I always knew.”
It’ll probably be a bad sign for WSU’s defense if Thomas has too many encounters with Carr on Friday, but the Cougars’ DB – maybe thanks to some more parental guidance – will definitely be squared up and in position to make a play if the USC running back does reach the defensive secondary.
“Moms is telling me, we talked about it last night,” Thomas said. “She was like, ‘Make sure you tackle Steve.’ That’s what she said.”
The Cougars’ Pac-12 opener is meaningful because it’s the first of nine games that counts toward conference standings. But, similar to how the Apple Cup excites just about every Washingtonian on the Cougar roster, the USC game bears that much more importance for 33 players who hail from Los Angeles, San Diego or a close-by suburb of those two.
Thomas is one of the 33. He attended Citrus High School in Riverside – about a 70-minute drive from USC’s campus when not obstructed by L.A. traffic – and expects a turnout of 15-20 family members for Friday’s game. The Cougars are limited to a certain number of “player tickets,” so Thomas has been working diligently for more than a year, asking teammates if they’ll be using their full allotment, in order to accommodate his camp’s needs.
“I’ve been trying to ask everyone for tickets,” he said. “People who are from California, who aren’t from California. Everyone’s using their tickets this week, so my mom just ended up having to buy a few.”
Eighty-one players are on the Cougars’ travel roster, and only 26 of the 33 Southern California natives travel. There are 55 players without direct ties to the SoCal area traveling to this week’s game – and theoretically, plenty of player tickets to be had.
“It’s just tough because you come to find out, oh this guy committed those tickets to another guy on the team in like August,” said defensive tackle Nick Begg, a Rancho Santa Margarita, California, native. “Just about everyone on the team, their parents want an excuse to go down to Southern California for a little vacation and enjoy themselves. So everyone from everywhere is pretty much using their tickets.”
The Cougars have visited every other stadium in the Pac-12 since their last trip to Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, in 2013. Peyton Pelluer and Robert Lewis were the only current players on the roster then. Both redshirted, but still traveled with the team to witness a 10-7 win over USC.
The rest of them get to experience the historic venue for the first time Friday.
“I dreamed of playing in the Coliseum,” Thomas said. “But I dreamed of playing everywhere, I just wanted to be a college football player.”
A few more notes on Washington State’s connections to USC and Southern California …
Tinsley Jr. and Tinsley Sr.
Washington State backup quarterback Trey Tinsley is the son of a former USC passer. Scott Tinsley was recruited by former Trojans coach John Robinson in the late 1970s and played 34 games for USC throughout his career, completing 107 of 184 passes for 1,320 yards and nine touchdowns during his time in Troy. Scott Tinsley, as the New York Times wrote in one article, decided to move west from Oklahoma City because “he became too much of a passer and not a quick enough runner to suit the Oklahoma wishbone offense.”
Teammates turned rivals
A handful of WSU’s 33 Southern Californians attended the same high school as USC players.
- At Bishop Amat in La Puente, WSU wide receiver Brandon Arconado overlapped with two USC receivers, Tyler Vaughns and Trevon Sidney.
- Cougar receivers Renard Bell and Jamire Calvin, along with nickel Halid Djibril, are familiar with USC outside linebacker Hunter Echols, who played at their Cathedral High.
- Crowder would not have overlapped with USC’s Ajene Harris at Crenshaw High, but WSU defensive lineman Derek Moore played with Harris.
- WSU’s Jahad Woods and Mason Vinyard will reunite with four-star USC cornerback and fellow Helix High (San Diego) grad Isaac Taylor-Stuart.
- Fa’vae Fa’vae, a WSU linebacker and Mater Dei product, will have a good pregame photo opportunity with USC starting quarterback JT Daniels, standout receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, kicker Chase McGrath, outside linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu and offensive lineman Frank Martin II. All played for the powerhouse in Santa Ana.
- St. John Bosco, another L.A.-area power, is the alma mater of WSU nickel Kedron Williams and USC’s Malik Dorton, Reid Burdrovich and Spencer Gilbert.
Here’s the full list of Southern Californians on WSU’s roster: Brandon Arconado (Chino Hills), Nick Begg (Rancho Santa Margarita), Renard Bell (Los Angeles), Karson Block (Mission Viejo), Jamire Calvin (Pasadena), Ahmir Crowder (Los Angeles), Halid Djibril (Los Angeles), Cole Dubots (Temecula), Fa’vae Fa’vae (Carson), Preston Hendry (Rancho Santa Margarita), George Hicks (San Bernardino), Brennan Jackson (Temecula), Damion Lee (Palm Springs), Robert Lewis (Watts), Isaiah Love (West Covina), Hunter Mattox (Calabasas), Darrien Molton (San Diego), Derek Moore (Los Angeles), Dezmon Patmon (San Diego), Logan Prescott (La Quinta), Syr Riley (Los Angeles), Liam Ryan (Chino Hills), Dillon Sherman (Mission Viejo), Dominick Silvels (San Diego), Marcus Strong (Rialto), Kyle Sweet (Rancho Santa Margarita), Skyler Thomas (Riverside), Jalen Thompson (Downey), Trey Tinsley (Lake Forest), Mason Vinyard (San Diego), James Williams (Burbank), Kedron Williams (Bellflower), Jahad Woods (San Diego).
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