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Sports >  WSU football

‘The show must go on.’ On the heels of hectic week, new-look Washington State team still has a job to do

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 22, 2021

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Jake Dickert asked for a triple shot when he got his coffee Tuesday morning ahead of a 7 a.m. practice session.

Understandably, he was up too late the night before. Everyone attached to the Washington State football program was.

But there’s a job to do and Dickert was asked to take over. There’s still a regular early morning schedule in place. WSU always practices at this time.

“It had a workmanship feel to it,” the Cougars’ defensive coordinator said that afternoon during a news conference, which served to introduce him as their acting head coach. “Our guys are hurting. I think a lot of the guys were out there on very little sleep, and they just kept grinding.”

Five of WSU’s 11 full-time coaches didn’t meet a state COVID-19 vaccination mandate, and the school had no choice but to fire them Monday evening.

Those terminated included the man in charge, Nick Rolovich, who appeared to have the team moving in the right direction and who seemed to be liked within the program, but whose stance on the mandate created a rift in the WSU community and caused headaches for the school’s leaders for nearly three months.

The state’s judgment day of Oct. 18 hit and the outcome was indeed what people feared it would be: WSU was in the national headlines for a situation that’s been unfortunate for all involved. Tough decisions were made and many lost jobs. Mentors disappeared and others were thrust into challenging roles.

“I had to explain to my daughter what happened to some of her friends and why, and those are hard conversations,” Dickert said.

Now, on the morning after an unprecedented day in college sports history, the exhausted Cougars had to show up to Rogers Field, go through stretches like normal, get loose in individual drills, bring energy in team reps and prepare for BYU.

Except … their second-year leader was gone, and so were several positional subleaders. Dickert said it was quiet and tense at the start, as might be expected. Yet it didn’t take more than one practice for them to find their rhythm again.

“It was definitely difficult Monday evening, Tuesday morning, but once we started practicing Tuesday morning – yeah, we were down – but the show must go on,” grad safety George Hicks III told Matt Chazanow on a radio show Thursday.

It’s the job. They feel a responsibility to keep playing and coaching.

“As the day kept going, more and more energy kept coming to life,” Dickert said Tuesday, a few hours after his first practice as boss of a football program. “Our guys are hurting, but they’re willing to give each other everything they have.”

The Cougars (4-3) still have expectations this year, postseason aspirations.

They’re on a three-game winning streak and playing an exciting brand of never-say-die football. Liam Ryan, a graduate student and 37-game starter at tackle, reminded them of their goals.

“Liam gave a pep talk and it was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to move on. Let’s lock in – it’s time to get things done,’ ” Hicks said.

“Everyone in the locker room knows what’s in front of us. We control our own destiny and no one wants these opportunities to slip away from us.”

WSU’s leadership is calling on a fractured Cougars fan base to rally around the team and move past this divisive era.

The players have shown unity and asked their supporters to prove their devotion at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Gesa Field, when WSU hosts a solid nonconference outfit from BYU (5-2).

“It’s been about the players,” Dickert told Chazanow when asked about his week. “It’s been about catching up and getting on the same page, and making sure all of our coaches are here for (the players).

“It’s been exciting to see the energy and growth and belief continue to grow throughout the week, and getting these guys back to a new normal.”

That new normal has the defensive-minded Dickert at the helm of a program that will feature two new assistants, and three staffers taking on new duties.

Run-and-shoot vets Dan Morrison (quarterbacks) and Dennis McKnight (offensive line) were hired this week to provide stability to a surging offense that has suddenly lost its main practitioner and its play-caller.

“We’re all in this foxhole together,” Dickert said. “I think we’re united together.”

Directing the run-and-shoot will be offensive coordinator Brian Smith, who has ample experience doing so. Dickert will continue to guide the defense, as he’s done to great effect this season.

Together, they’ll try to keep the schematic changes to a minimum while leaning on standards set by the athletes when they meet a hungry opponent in BYU, which is coming off back-to-back losses.

Dickert heeded advice from WSU’s team captains and allowed them to take point at practices. They wanted to stay in their standard routine.

“Faith, trust and belief – we’ve gotta establish that in quick order, and get these guys believing and feeling like themselves again,” Dickert said. “I believe we can do that. You believe in young people, they will do amazing things.

“They will give this team everything they have. This is a special group of men. I feel for what they’re going through.”

It’s another notch in a seemingly endless string of adversity for this roster of players, which is laden with upperclassmen.

Optimism for this season hasn’t been lost, though. Much of the Cougars’ success this year has been driven by the resolute character of this team, which found a gear after a rough start behind spirited play from the likes of buoyant edge rushers Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson, stylish quarterback Jayden de Laura, and the electric slotback duo of Travell Harris and Calvin Jackson Jr.

“This game is about players,” BYU assistant head coach Ed Lamb said earlier this week when asked by a local reporter about WSU’s situation.

“It’s 99% about the players and 1% about coaches.”

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