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‘I just wanted to come back’: Washington State defensive back Daniel Isom embracing second opportunity with Cougars

Washington State defensive back Daniel Isom (3) prepares for play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oregon in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Oregon won 43-29.   (Associated Press )

Daniel Isom was on Washington State’s football team one day and not on it the next.

For those not in tune with what’s going on between the walls of the Cougars’ football complex, that’s about all there is to know about Isom’s dismissal from the program last November. Isom’s bio on the school website sums up the defensive back’s second semester in Pullman as well as anything else might.

“RS-Junior (2019): Started first five games at strong safety, started at cornerback at Arizona State and against Colorado…forced a fumble against New Mexico State…made 11 tackles at Utah…did not start at Oregon…forced a fumble at Cal…removed from team.”

No details on that last bit. Not that they’re so relevant anymore.

Isom spoke with reporters for the first time since Mike Leach dismissed the junior college transfer defensive back for what the program termed as “a violation of team rules.” The redshirt senior didn’t seem interested in detailing the series of events that led to his dismissal, nor was Isom very long-winded when talking about how exactly he found his way back to the Cougars.

“I just wanted to come back and I’m just focused on being here now and being whatever help I can to the team,” Isom said. “Just trying to play hard and kind of lead by example. Just play hard every week.”

For all the unknowns surrounding Isom’s status with the WSU football program for a six-month period, a few things do seem clear: the new coaching staff seemed willing to give him another chance and the teammates he grew close with last season were thrilled to have him back.

Some have expressed that verbally, but it also showed up when Rolovich had players cast votes to elect the team’s four captains. Isom wasn’t one of the four players chosen, but the St. Louis native still picked up a handful of votes from his peers – a telling sign that he’s emerged as one of the defense’s foremost leaders, and done whatever may have been necessary to win back the trust of his teammates.

“We got the four we picked, but that doesn’t mean Daniel Isom didn’t get a bunch of votes,” Rolovich said. “And I made sure to tell him, you got a bunch of votes, whether that was your ultimate goal or not. But you could really have a positive impact on this team.”

Speaking on that Tuesday, Isom said “It means a lot, your teammates have respect for you. It just makes you want to pour yourself out even more on the field when you know your teammates have your back.”

Outside of his role with the football program, not much changed for the Iowa Western transfer when he learned he wouldn’t have a chance to finish the season. Isom stayed in Pullman to complete his undegraduate degree in Social Sciences. He did that in the spring, graduating months after the Cougars made a coaching change, replacing Leach with Rolovich. It’s unclear when Isom was officially reinstated to the program, but he hinted at it in early May, posting a Twitter photo of the fueling care package every WSU athlete received from former offensive lineman Andre Dillard.

“My game plan was really just, the whole time was keep working on myself and graduate,” Isom said. “So I finished up school and graduated this spring. That’s pretty much all I was focused on was graduating.”

Isom is working on new goals now. He hopes to graduate again, this time with a master’s degree, and help the Cougars rebuild a defense that began sputtering well before he left last season and didn’t get any better in the four games he missed.

The 6-foot, 199-pound defensive back started the 2019 season at strong safety, but was moved to cornerback when defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys left the program midseason. This year, Isom is at free safety – different than strong safety, but more natural of a position for him than cornerback – and is tied with linebacker Jahad Woods for the team lead in tackles.

As he was pressed more about his journey back, Isom stayed mum, not offering many details or making it bigger than he felt it needed to be.

“I wouldn’t say it was a long process,” Isom said. “It was pretty normal for me.”

By all accounts, fortuitous for the Cougars as well.