One man's highs & lows of covering the Cougs

TIME FLIES. One minute you're on the Rogers Field sidelines talking to Brandon Gibson and the next you're listening to Mike Leach deliver a humorous comment of some kind. After a college career highlighted by work covering Cougar football and hoops, I'm headed to the Lynden Tribune in Whatcom County. My time covering the Cougs won't soon be forgotten, though. Here are some lasting impressions ...

Favorite player to interview:
Easily Tyree Toomer. My biggest disappointment of this spring was that he was battling an injury and I didn't get one last quote from him. Toomer didn't hide his emotions and I could always count on him for a lively quote. Last year during Apple Cup Week, when I asked him if the players shared the students' hatred for UW, he said without hesitation: "Hell yeah we hate UW." Running back James Montgomery was a close second for favorite Coug player to interview.

Least favorite player to interview:
Marshall Lobbestael. Surprising, right? I'll explain. Marshall and I became good friends over the years and he is one of the nicest people I met in my time in Pullman. But his work ethic would drive me crazy in late October and November. It can get pretty chilly when the sun goes down and if you wanted to talk with Marshall, you had to wait an extra 10 to 20 minutes after practice because he and Jared Karstetter would throw on their own when regular practice was done. I'd cover my face with my jacket. I'd even do some light running to stay warm. The whole time I wanted to yell out "C'mon fellas!" but I admired their drive and passion and kept my trap shut despite the cold.


Most memorable interview:
In the fall of 2010, following a Tuesday practice on a gorgeous day, offensive line coach Steve Morton was truly bubbling with optimism. After going on for three minutes about how the team was battling hard and how the offensive line was playing well, he says: "Wow, I'm pumped up -- want to head butt?" I was speechless and jokingly said yes, which could have been a costly mistake because that man is intense. He played for the Cougs in the 1970s and is now WSU's coordinator of the Gray W Varsity Club. With his drive, there should be no doubt the club is headed for new heights.

Most awkward moment:
Trust me, there were quite a few of them over the years. And one was just a couple of weeks ago following the second scrimmage of the spring. I was going to interview special teams coach Eric Russell but he looked like he was going to be tied up for a few minutes, so I turned off my cell phone -– which doubles as my tape recorder -– to save dwindling battery time. No sooner had the phone powered off than Coach Russell was ready to talk. It took about 90 seconds to get my phone powered back on. He didn't seem amused by this waste of time. He just stared at me and I kept saying, sorry, just one second. The most publicly embarrassing moment happened after practice when a bunch of us were interviewing Paul Wulff. I could have sworn on everything that is holy that cornerback Nolan Washington hadn't been at practice that day, so I asked Paul why Washington was missing. He looked at me and said, "Wait, what? Washington was out here." The second he said that, Washington jogged by and everyone got a nice laugh at my expense.

What I'll miss most:
Talking with the players. The guys on the football and basketball teams were great to work with, and I always enjoyed having them come say hello to me when we'd see each other out in public. I'm also going to miss the pulled pork, hot dogs, and chocolate chip cookies in the press box on game days. Sports information director Bill Stevens would often joke with me that there was a two-plate limit. He never clarified, so I assumed he meant two plates per quarter.

Thoughts on Paul Wulff:
He was great to talk with. He would answer anything you asked, be it an injury situation or disciplinary action. For two reasons, I was disappointed when he was let go. One, I could tangibly see how he was rebuilding the program and believe that if Jeff Tuel hadn't been injured last season the Cougs would have won three more games. The second reason I was sad to see him go was simply because he's a very solid guy.

Thoughts on Mike Leach:
Like Paul, you can ask him anything you want -- but you'll get some Harry Potter-type responses that leave you with not very much to work with. Although he won't give you a lot of info, it's clear he's excited to be at WSU and appreciates the opportunity to be back on the sidelines. He is passionate about what he's doing, and so are his assistant coaches. They love the game and they believe deeply in the system they've brought to WSU. Leach's hiring may go down as the biggest "victory" in the history of Cougar athletics.

Prediction for this season:
A bowl game, without question. There's no way this team doesn't win at least six games. They're no longer young and inexperienced, and the upper-classmen are ready to lead. Tuel will explode in the Leach system, and Marquess Wilson won't be the only beneficiary. All the Cougar wideouts are going to be in on the action, and tight end-turned-slot-man Andrei Lintz wouldn't surprise me in the slightest with 65 or more catches this season. He was just eye-opening this spring. The biggest question mark for me is the health and depth of the offensive line. The Cougs will beat the teams they should and surprise a couple others. The win over Washington on Nov. 23 will give them a regular-season record of 7-5.

AS I LOOK BACK on my time covering the Cougs with CF.C, one thing that really stands out is how the players never threw in the towel despite all the tough game-day outcomes. They always had that look of fierce competitiveness on their faces.

What also stands out to me is the community. People say it's hard to recruit to Pullman because it's a small college town in farm country, but once you're here awhile you fall in love with the place. The energy of this college town, coupled with the family atmosphere you often here about, really makes WSU something special. Heck, it's only been three days since I left but I already miss it.

They say once a Coug always a Coug, and you better believe your crimson hearts that I'll be taking that to the grave. As a reporter covering a team, I always strived to be objective. But now as a regular fan, I'll sign off with two words that sing like no others: Go Cougs!

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