PULLMAN – Oregon State quarterback Chance Nolan collected a first-down snap midway through the third quarter and tucked the ball, searching for room up the middle on a keeper.
He had a lane in sight. If Nolan could manage to slip past one Washington State defender, he’d surely pick up some chunk yardage.
Standing in the way was a lesser-known Cougar defensive tackle – Jesus “Zeus” Echevarria, who met Nolan in a gap at the line of scrimmage, then wrapped up and ripped down the evasive Beaver signal-caller for a 1-yard gain.
It won’t stand out in the grand scheme of WSU’s 31-24 win over OSU on Saturday at Gesa Field. But it seemed like a significant moment to Echevarria, who popped up excitedly and pounded his chest, letting out a roar.
“It was really good to see his emotion when he made that play,” WSU coach Nick Rolovich said. “It’s good to see (success from) young people who have gone through some adversity and worked hard to get something.”
For Echevarria, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on from Everett, a solo highlight like that probably felt like a long time coming. Finally, he’s getting his chance to seize a meaningful role in the Cougar defense.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pounder missed 11 games in 2019 with a leg injury a year after a redshirt freshman season in which he plugged away and made steady progress up the depth chart.
He played sparingly in two of four games last season and was poised for a breakout this year before suffering an unspecified injury in fall camp, leaving him sidelined for the first four weeks of the Cougs’ campaign.
“Since (this staff) arrived, he’s been an excellent teammate. He’s a hard worker,” Rolovich said of the Archbishop Murphy High grad, who was recently put on scholarship. “He was really productive before getting hurt in training camp. He was really somebody we were planning on counting on. He attacked rehab the same way, and we knew he was going to add to our defensive-tackle play as he got healthier and healthier.
“If he didn’t get hurt, I think he would have had a big part in all of our games this year.”
Echevarria returned to the field two weeks ago at Cal, alternating in with four other defensive tackles, but his reps in Berkeley were limited because “he was just coming off an injury and we didn’t want to overdo it,” Rolovich said.
Appearing on 19 of OSU’s 71 offensive snaps – per Cougfan.com – Echevarria saw perhaps the most extensive playing time in any game of his collegiate career.
He posted a pair of tackles, upping his career total to 10 in 11 games, as WSU consistently sent out a heavy front to combat the Beavers’ power running game. Echevarria entered on the Cougs’ first defensive series and assisted on a second-and-5 tackle, stopping OSU running back B.J. Baylor a yard shy of the line to gain.
WSU is apparently growing confident in a defensive-tackle rotation that primarily employs Amir Mujahid, Ahmir Crowder, Christian Mejia, Antonio Pule and Echevarria. For unknown reasons, senior Dallas Hobbs didn’t play at Cal and has only contributed sporadically this season.