PULLMAN – While working as a temporary sports broadcaster and providing color commentary for the Pac-12 championship game, Ron Stone Jr. broke some news.
The standout Washington State edge rusher informed viewers that he’ll be returning to Pullman for his sixth and final collegiate season.
“That’s the news, guys – I’m coming back,” Stone told the Pac-12 Network’s audience after Utah topped USC 47-24 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
About 12 hours before Stone made his announcement, fellow Cougars edge rusher Brennan Jackson pledged to return to WSU for a sixth season.
The Cougars received early commitments from their two defensive captains, and that comes as a relief for the WSU faithful – considering the uncertainties surrounding the roster during every offseason in this era of the NCAA transfer portal, and name, image and likeness deals luring players to other programs.
A third-year starter, Stone finished the regular season with 31 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks. His numbers were underwhelming coming off a stellar 2021 season, but Stone still had a presence in the backfield this year, leading the Pac-12 with 14 quarterback hits.
Stone was named to several watch lists for national awards this preseason after he set the pace for WSU last year during its defensive resurgence and captured a first-team All-Pac-12 nod. But he was limited in fall camp this year due to an injury and couldn’t match his level of play seen in 2021.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder from San Jose, California, has totaled 139 tackles, 20½ TFLs and 11 sacks across 45 appearances since joining WSU in 2018. He’ll have a chance to set a program record for career appearances next year. Former linebackers Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers share the record at 56 games. Stone is six sacks shy of cracking the program’s top 10 in that stat category.
He and Jackson accepted an extra year of eligibility, granted by the NCAA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will be the most important returners next season for a WSU defense that was among the Pac-12’s best this year, but will lose several key contributors to graduation – and potentially the transfer portal.
Known for his charisma and talkative nature, Stone joined the Pac-12 Network crew Friday as a player-analyst. He’d made a good impression on the conference’s TV personalities during Pac-12 media day in July, so the Cougars “pitched an idea,” coach Jake Dickert said.
“RJ at media day was the star of the show, through all the teams, all the coaches,” Dickert said Friday. “He outshined me, which is a great thing. It’s just his infectious personality, but he really wants to be a broadcaster.”
Dickert credited Bill Stevens, WSU’s senior associate director of athletics communications, who used his media connections to set up the opportunity for Stone.
“We thought it was inventive to have someone who played against these two teams – a unique perspective, a unique and great personality and a great ambassador to get our program out there, as well,” Dickert said. “I think it’s a special, special opportunity. I told the team Friday that we’re always looking for these opportunities – whether you wanna be a cop, (setting up) a police ride-along, or whether you wanna be an educator, getting into schools. There are a lot of opportunities, things you can do right here through Pullman, Washington, and Washington State. I’m proud of RJ. I wonder if he’s a little nervous. I don’t think he’s been nervous doing (anything) in his life.”
When Stone first joined the Pac-12 Network crew on the sideline, he admitted to feeling a bit anxious, but settled in nicely. He bantered with a few other commentators, previewed the game – lending insights on how to contain USC quarterback Caleb Williams, for instance – and offered postgame thoughts as the first player-analyst in Pac-12 Network history.
“We’re so excited for him,” Jackson said . “Obviously, that’s what he wants to do, so being able to see him actually fulfill that … it’s a great experience. We told him he has to shout us out at least once or find some way to get us in there. I don’t know if he will, but it’s exciting for him. We won’t hear the end of it, for sure.”
After the game, Stone saluted his WSU teammates and said he’s eager to tell them about the championship environment. He’s pondering a return to Allegiant Stadium – next time, he hopes to sport a football uniform instead of a suit jacket.