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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

To blossom on WSU’s offensive line, Christian Hilborn had to stop listening to the noise

Washington State offensive lineman Christian Hilborn cheers after the Cougars defeated Colorado State on September 2 in Fort Collins, Colo.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Christian Hilborn opened up his phone and headed to the app store. His teammate, Washington State edge rusher Brennan Jackson, had just sent him a tweet that highlighted Hilborn and the Cougars’ offensive line’s recent outing.

Hilborn has an account on X, formerly known as Twitter, but he had recently decided to delete the app. He had been spending too much time on it, he decided.

“I thought it was dumb,” Hilborn said.

But back on Oct. 22, Hilborn decided to redownload the app to repost one thing. WSU was coming off a road loss to Oregon, but the Cougs’ offensive line demonstrated meaningful strides, which is what Hilborn went to repost.

In that game, Pro Football Focus had handed Hilborn a pass-blocking grade of 89.4, which ranked first in the Pac-12 and fourth nationwide for that week. His other four teammates on the offensive line had all graded out well, too, a firm step in the right direction for a group that had been under a microscope as WSU’s losing streak dragged on.

So Hilborn redownloaded the app, clicked on the post, then reposted it.

“And then deleted it again,” Hilborn laughed.

He may have been smiling when he said that, but to understand how the left guard has stood out as one of Washington State’s most consistent linemen this fall, you have to understand that when he decided to delete X, he did so for reasons that run deeper than a press on a screen.

“I just try to block all that stuff out,” Hilborn said. “I mean, people can say things, people can do things, but I’m not gonna let that dictate how I’m gonna behave or act.”

Which is to say: Hilborn doesn’t care what his critics or supporters say, which has kept him grounded this season, from all the swings Washington State has endured – the hot start to the sluggish four-game slide the Cougs currently find themselves in.

At the heart of some of WSU’s struggles has been the play of its offensive line, which hasn’t been able to develop much rhythm. The Cougs started well, keeping quarterback Cameron Ward clean for home wins over Wisconsin and Oregon State, but that’s about when things went south for their front five.

WSU’s offensive line yielded 21 pressures in a loss to UCLA. Hilborn surrendered five of those. On the Cougs’ last play on offense, a fourth-and-1 in the final moments, Hilborn couldn’t pull in time to avoid mucking up the running lane, and Ward had nowhere to go.

Even tougher on Hilborn and the Cougs’ offensive line has been run-blocking. According to PFF, they rank last in the Pac-12 in that department. They haven’t found ways to pave lanes for Ward, running back Nakia Watson or for most anyone in the backfield. They might get four guys on the same page, as offensive line coach Clay McGuire likes to say, but when the fifth gets out of position, the whole operation craters.

Which is what makes Hilborn’s season so fascinating: He’s almost always been one guy on the same page. He has yet to yield a sack this season. He’s graded out at 75.3 in pass-blocking, tops on the team among starters, and outside of the UCLA game, he has never permitted more than two pressures in a game.

He’s been the Cougs’ most consistent lineman, in other words, which is about the best asset an offensive line can ask for.

“Christian has it in him to be really, really good,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said. “And it’s just making him see all the little details matter and the want-to of it. He’s still learning and growing. He’s still a young player. So to keep getting better, and to keep wanting to do that, in the middle of the season, I think is very important and sets him up for a really great career if he keeps going in that direction.”

In some ways, Hilborn’s career already seems like something out of a movie. He’s in his second year starting, so he might seem like a veteran, but he still has lots of college football to play. He feels much more comfortable pass-blocking than run-blocking, but in high school in Salt Lake City, his team ran the triple-option offense – which asked Hilborn to operate in a completely different way than he does now at WSU.

Hilborn’s start to this year took on an even more seesaw nature. A returning starter, he had his job all but locked up in fall camp, but that’s when he went down with a knee injury. He missed scrimmages, and when the Cougars’ first depth chart of the season surfaced, he was listed at right guard – only to play left tackle when Washington State blew out Colorado State.

“It’s hard to switch between both of them,” Hilborn said.

As the Cougs tinkered with their offensive line starters, trying to find a combination that might free them from their slump, Hilborn kept toggling back and forth. In WSU’s loss to Arizona, on Oct. 14, Hilborn started at left tackle, but coaches switched things up at halftime and in the second half, he was back at left guard.

Now, though, WSU has found a permanent arrangement, which slots Hilborn at left guard, his natural and preferred position.

So now Hilborn feels comfortable. He just doesn’t care who notices.

“I feel like I’ve always kinda just not really cared about what other people think,” Hilborn said. “I think that’s a big thing.”