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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley, team’s top tackler, opts out of LA Bowl

Dec. 9, 2022 Updated Sat., Dec. 10, 2022 at 12:40 a.m.

Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley heads to the locker room before a game against Utah on Oct. 27 at Gesa Field in Pullman. Henley, an All-Pac-12 first-team selection and NFL draft prospect, has opted out of the L.A. Bowl.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley heads to the locker room before a game against Utah on Oct. 27 at Gesa Field in Pullman. Henley, an All-Pac-12 first-team selection and NFL draft prospect, has opted out of the L.A. Bowl. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Washington State’s Daiyan Henley, a first-team All-Pac-12 linebacker and NFL draft prospect, will watch the Cougars’ season finale from the sideline.

The senior outside linebacker has opted out of the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, thus concluding a short but impactful playing career at WSU.

Coach Jake Dickert confirmed the news during a media session Friday evening. Henley will provide guidance for the Cougars’ linebackers on Dec. 17 against Fresno State at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.

“Daiyan is going to be helping me coach the bowl game,” Dickert said. “He’s our new assistant linebackers coach. … He’s going to be down there with the team. He’s still a main leader on the team. I’m excited for this next phase, finishing it off then watching him be a professional.”

Henley came to WSU this offseason after spending five years at Nevada – initially a receiver and return man for the Wolf Pack, he took reps on both sides of the ball in 2018, then settled in at defensive back in 2019 before converting to linebacker in 2020. He earned All-Mountain West second-team honors last season and became the prized recruit of WSU’s 2022 class when he chose the Cougs over several prominent suitors.

At WSU, Henley exceeded high expectations, establishing himself as the most talented player for a Cougars defense that was among the Pac-12’s best.

The 6-foot-2, 232-pounder from Los Angeles led the team and finished second in the conference with 106 tackles. He registered 12 tackles for loss – third in the conference – and paced the Pac-12 with three forced fumbles. Henley added two fumble recoveries, four sacks and one interception.

 Henley led the charge for WSU’s swarming defense during one of the most memorable seasons for a linebacker in school history. He is the first Cougar LB to land on the all-conference first team since Will Derting in 2003. Henley is the first player in program history to be named a finalist for the Butkus Award, which recognizes the top LB in the country. That prize went to Iowa’s Jack Campbell on Thursday.

Henley will take part in the Senior Bowl all-star showcase in February to boost his NFL draft stock, which already seems to be high. Earlier this season, ESPN tabbed Henley the No. 5 linebacker in this draft class and No. 54 overall pro prospect.

“I don’t know if you can put it into words right now,” Dickert said of Henley’s importance to the team during his one-year stay. “What he’s done in 11 months, the impact he’s had on this program, the impact he’s had on the Cougs – I know our fans feel like he’s been one of us for a really long time.

“That’s him, that’s his attitude, that’s his personality, that’s the fun he has with the game and it’s the work he has put in to get to this point. I think he’s a sure-fire All-American, and he’s really earned it. I’m proud to be just the smallest part of his journey and hopefully, he looks back at his time here at Washington State … and really loves this place. I think he’s given us everything he has and I’m just excited for the next phase of his journey.”

Henley’s opt-out is another major blow to WSU’s linebacking corps, which recently lost two key contributors to the NCAA transfer portal. Middle linebackers Francisco Mauigoa and Travion Brown, who shared reps at the position throughout the year, both joined college football’s free-agency market last week.

Kyle Thornton, a fourth-year Cougar who had 31 tackles off the bench this season, will shift to middle linebacker for the LA Bowl and make his first career start. Senior Ben Wilson, who did most of his work this year on special teams, is set to make his first WSU start. Wilson, a second-year Cougar who made one start across three seasons at TCU (2018-20), will replace Henley at outside linebacker.

Senior strong safety Jordan Lee, known most for his hard-hitting abilities, is making a change in positions. The Nevada transfer will serve as Wilson’s backup, Dickert said.

“He’s been working with me this last week and we just went through his first practice (at linebacker),” Dickert said of Lee. “It’s amazing how smart that kid is. It blew me away today to watch him go out there and practice that way.”

Junior Joshua Erling, a career backup, and true freshman Hudson Cedarland will come off the bench in relief of Thornton, according to Dickert. Cedarland, a Gig Harbor, Washington, native and one of WSU’s top recruits of the 2022 class, has not made an appearance this year. He underwent surgery in the middle of the season.

“(Cedarland) is back after a midseason surgery, so he’s been getting some great reps and he’s got a high ceiling,” Dickert said. “That’s the crew we’ll go into the game with. Coaching them in that room will be fun.”

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