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Thursday, October 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on Sports: Tonight’s NFL Draft marks the beginning of the future for Dillard and others from the area

Washington State offensive lineman Andre Dillard, right, chats with Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney after running drills during WSU’s Pro Day on April 3 in Pullman. The Cougars standout will likely be a first-round pick in the NFL draft Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State offensive lineman Andre Dillard, right, chats with Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney after running drills during WSU’s Pro Day on April 3 in Pullman. The Cougars standout will likely be a first-round pick in the NFL draft Thursday in Nashville, Tenn. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • You would think it is football season with what starts tonight in Nashville. Yep, it’s the NFL Draft. The biggest off-season event in professional sports. And a big part of a couple Washington State Cougars’ future. Read on.

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• There is little doubt offensive tackle Andre Dillard will be among the first dozen or so players picked, and in the process becoming the first WSU offensive lineman picked in the first round.

The other high profile Cougars in the draft, quarterback Gardner Minshew and running back James “Boobie” Williams, will have to wait to hear their name, more than likely on the weekend – if they hear them at all.

Dillard’s ascent up the draft boards began last football season as he protected Minshew’s blind side about as well as any offensive tackle has ever in Pullman. As the Cougars’ win total mounted, as Minshew became part of the nation’s consciousness, Dillard’s stock rose.

It will reach the biggest of big boards tonight.

In the run up to tonight’s first round, Dillard’s name has been linked with the Houston Texans (Peter King’s mock draft, as well as Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay of ESPN). Others like him heading to Carolina or Minnesota.

Wherever he ends up, it will be an historic night for the Cougars and their offensive line.

• Though Minshew may have caught the nation’s fancy last fall, his draft status in unclear. The Brandon, Miss., native is expected to be picked sometime Saturday, when the teams race through rounds 3-to-7.

When it happens, it will mark the most amazing year-to-year rise of any Washington State quarterback I can remember.

This time last year, Minshew was a wisp of a possibility, a graduate-transfer from East Carolina who had been in and out of the lineup. Heck, he wasn’t even in Pullman yet.

Fast forward through WSU’s first 11-win season and some time this weekend the good folks in Mississippi will gather around their TV sets and explode in joy when his name is called on ESPN.

• Speaking of those folks in Brandon, they and their relationship to Minshew are the subject of Theo Lawson’s story in today’s S-R.

Listen, I’ve read just about every story on Gardner Minshew’s amazing journey in the past year – even written one or two of them – and this is the one you don’t want to miss.

Theo spent time in his hometown and used it wisely, covering every aspect of Minshew’s life as it was molded by where he grew up. All of us are products of our environment. For some, our environments are also products of us. That’s the case with Minshew. Brandon helped shape him and he’s returned the favor.

That’s a story you don’t want to miss.

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WSU: We linked Theo’s story on Minshew above. He should be an NFL Draft pick this weekend. Last year, the Green Bay Packers picked offensive lineman Cole Madison. He never played. Now we have a better idea why. His story has been documented around the country this week. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, Washington’s spring practices continued, with the secondary taking center stage along with the quarterbacks. … Colorado will hold its spring game this weekend. … Oregon still has questions to answer defensively. … The basketball news from New York is not good for Arizona, even if coach Sean Miller doesn’t have to testify in the corruption trial. His name is being dragged through the mud. … Jaylen Nowell is not returning to Washington.

Gonzaga: Around the WCC, the new basketball staff at BYU is complete.

Idaho: Former athletic director Rob Spear has a new job, but it is not in athletics.

Chiefs: Spokane had a two-goal lead last night with a chance to even the WHL Western Conference final against Vancouver. But the Giants rallied, forced overtime and won in the extra frame. Now the series heads back to Canada with Vancouver up 3-1. Kevin Dudley has the game story and Colin Mulvany has the photo report

Preps: Records are meant to be broken. But if they aren’t, they are meant to stand as a goal for others. As long as they are remembered. Steve Christilaw has a story today about a Mead high jump record that got lost over the years, and was recently re-discovered. … Ryan Collingwood has his track notebook. … The end of his tennis-coaching career is near for Mead's Bill Wagstaff. It's been a successful one in every way possible, as Justin Reed's story documents. .. It was also another busy day of competition. We pass along roundups from baseball, softball and soccer.

Mariners: Felix Hernandez seems to be adjusting his plan of attack to deal with diminished abilities. That’s good, as was his outing yesterday in which he made just one mistake. However, the Mariners seem to have taken a step back at the plate. That’s bad, as was their 1-0 loss to the Padres in San Diego. … Jerry Dipoto made a trade yesterday.

Seahawks: The Hawks’ draft became a little more exciting after they traded Frank Clark and picked up another first-round pick. Will they actually use it or trade for more selections?

Sounders: Seattle fell behind a couple goals in their home match with San Jose last night. The Sounders rallied, though, and picked up a point in the standings with a 2-2 draw.

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• Once again we want to give you a heads up. We won’t have a column on Saturday morning. Tomorrow, yes. Sunday, yes. Saturday, nope. Until later …

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