I have been able to see Jeff play in person once this season and also every weekend I could on film and television. I've been really impressed with what the true sophomore has had to offer. I think he has truly been the brightest star of an ever-improving offensive unit. Like all of us when we get to play our first full season in college there is a period where we hit a wall because we just weren't quite ready for a full NCAA season. But Jeff has really impressed. And statistically, he's probably having the best sophomore season of any QB at WSU since Jack Thompson.
How much more intense/different are practices during Apple Cup week, and overall how do Coug players view the rivalry compared to the fans?
I wouldn't necessarily say the practices are more intense or different, but the fact of the matter is that the game brings out the fight in everyone. The old saying that you can throw out the records is really accurate. Both teams go after it hard. As a former player I would say I viewed the rivalry probably the same as all my teammates. We are all Cougs and as soon as we make that life-changing decision to go crimson, we all hate the Huskies with a passion and till this day the color purple still makes me sick to my stomach!!
Talk about your personal Apple Cup experiences.
I was lucky enough to be a part of four Apple Cups. My first experience was as a redshirt freshman and scout team QB going up against the nation's number one defense – the Palouse Posse – everyday. What an honor. That was the best experience I could have gotten prior to playing. Led by the Posse, we won that Apple Cup handily. My second year in the program, the Apple Cup wound up being my first-ever start as a college player. It was a wet day at Husky Stadium. I remember opening up my cocky -- and very inexperienced -- mouth and calling out Lawyer Malloy and that defense. Great feeling walking out in front of 76,000 screaming fans and hearing them boo you and you give it right back to them with your great play. We ended up losing on a last-second field goal, 33-30, but I was hooked, I didn't want to beat anyone more than I did those Dawgs. My third experience was back in Pullman on a cold and snowy night after we had lost three straight games and needed a win to be bowl eligible. For me, it honestly really wasn't even a game. I was awful for the first three quarters. But then something happened and we erupted as an offense and came back from a 24-3 deficit to tie it up and send it to overtime, just to lose it on a corner route to Chad Carpenter whose foot just couldn't quite get down in the end zone. Heartbreaking to lose, but it made my fourth and final Apple Cup experience a year later – 1997 -- even sweeter. It was at Husky Stadium and the Rose Bowl was on the line for the Cougars. The game is pretty much a beautiful blur to me, but the one thing I do really remember was jawing back and forth with the Huskies' Jason Chorak on the first series and seeing him gradually throughout the game get so frustrated that they could just not get to me on all those 3rd and longs. "Don't worry, it will be over soon there 4-6!" I told him at one point. Good times, I tell ya.
Would love to hear about the former players that write letters of encouragement and motivation before Apple Cups?
This was truly one of the great traditions that I realized when the Apple Cup came around. Faxes and letters would come in during the week and Coach Price would read their words of encouragement, hatred for the Huskies, fond memories and pep talks. I remember when Drew Bledsoe sent a fax for my first start and how that pumped me up and the fact that Drew Bledsoe cared about our Apple Cup and me, made my year.
What was Mike Price's reaction/comments to Chris Jackson donning the "Mike Price Pose" after his 3rd quarter TD in the 1997 Apple Cup?
A lot of people never realized what CJ was doing when he turned and posed towards the sideline with his hand's on his hips, it was such a inside joke for me and my teammates I don't know if Coach Price ever really figured that one out. Good/Funny question.
Who was the greatest Coug you played with during your time at WSU?
As for the greatest Coug I played with, there were so many it's really hard to say. I loved the Fab 5 and the Fat 5, plus guys like Michael Black. If push came to shove, though, I'd probably have to say the greatest Coug was Lee Harrison. He was a true Cougar, no doubt about it.
Any upcoming talent in the Kegel or Leaf family that we should be aware of?
Haha, thanks for asking. Be looking for another blond-haired, 6-5 rifle-armed Kegel in about 16 years named Kasey. As for the Leaf side of the clan, my brothers and I are still single so our poor parents are still grandchild-less.
Is it a good thing this season to have so much time off before the Apple Cup, or is it hard to keep focused for such a long time?
I do think it is a good thing. The Cougs can truly get healthy after 11 straight weeks knocking heads and I do believe the coaches will use this window like they're preparing for a bowl and really take advantage of those extra practices. The work will not only prepare the team for the big game but those extra reps, especially for the young guys, will help out hugely next year and in the long run. Keeping them focused could sometimes be a difficult thing to do but I don't think it will be a problem since it is the Huskies and at home!!
What unique qualities do you think are key to recruiting good players to WSU? What was it that sold you on WSU?
The key to recruiting good players to WSU are finding those 3-star players who have a chip on their shoulder and the heart to turn themselves into 5-star players. When I came out of high school I wasn't necessarily considered a big-time recruit, but it's just something about wanting to be in Pullman. For me it was all about Coach Price. He told me if I went there we'd play in Rose Bowl together, and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. I believed him, and I enjoyed the guys I met on my recruiting trip and it reminded me of what a college town should be like.
What's your opinion on the Cam Newton situation?
Well it is pretty simple in my opinion. Does the NCAA have proof that Auburn paid Newton or his family? As far as I know, they don't. Is it an NCAA violation to solicit money but not receive any? I don't know the answer to that. Right now, it just seems to be a lot of hearsay. It sounds more like a big ol' conspiracy theory made up by an opposing opponent in the SEC – somewhat reminiscent of Coach Price's departure from Alabama.
If you were offered the QB coaching position on Coach Wulff's staff would you accept it? Besides writing, what are your other career goals?
I think I would always be interested in coaching young men, especially at my alma mater. I do miss coaching my quarterbacks, but I think the staff at WSU has done a tremendous job with that position. As for my other career goals, my plan is to continue to write, and speak in a motivational and or spiritual capacity. I want to give back and help with anyone who needs a hand in any way. I never want anyone to feel the way I did just over two years ago when my addiction to prescription painkillers took over my life. I'm going to continue to do some co-hosting on radio shows, and maybe some color commentary in the future. I also continue to sell fishing packages for West Coast Resorts, and am now in the process of putting together the second annual Cougar Legends Fishing Adventure.
In your opinion, what are the 2 or 3 most important elements we are missing that can get us back toward the top of the Pac-10, soon to be 12?
First and foremost, as Bill Moos has stated, are the facilities. In comparison to when I attended Wazzu, WSU has made great strides, but I had the opportunity to visit my little brother at Oregon and saw those first-rate facilities that Mr. Moos built down there. WSU needs to do more. Having Bill rejoin WSU as our new athletic director is huge. Second, the product that is on that field every Saturday is coming along, but 36,000 fans in Martin Stadium is like 60,000 anywhere else. I know that for a fact. So we need to get more people in the seats. Finally, I would suggest all of us former players get more involved with the program again. For the longest time it felt a bit as if we were a bother when we returned for games and practices. Getting former players more involved will help keep this program on top.
Thanks to everyone for all your questions and suggestions. So until next time, I'm going to go dig my old "Huck the Fuskies" t-shirt out of storage and get in Apple Cup mode for my next column. Go Cougs!!!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ryan Leaf is a Washington State graduate who quarterbacked the 1997 Cougars to the Pac-10 title, a top 10 national finish and a berth in the 1998 Rose Bowl. He shattered records, earned first-team All-America honors, and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. He later spent four seasons in the NFL, and three seasons as the quarterbacks coach at West Texas A&M. Today, Ryan still keeps many balls in the air. He works in sales and marketing for West Coast Resorts, has become a passionate advocate for those trying to overcome addiction to prescription painkillers, is pursuing varied business interests, and writing a periodic column for CF.C. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.