"No relation, but when I was a track athlete (at Capital High in Olympia) I always put ‘J. Thorpe' on the back of my sweatshirt to try and make people think so," says Jacob Thorpe, who took over this week for Christian Caple as the Spokesman-Review's Cougar beat writer.
Cougfan.com's institutional knowledge with the S-R dates back to the 1960s, so we're confident in declaring that Thorpe, at age 22 and just four months graduated from the University of Washington, is the youngest Cougar beat writer in the history of the paper.
Asked if he has any old-school tendencies like legendary Harry Missildine, the gravelly voiced, cigar smoking, whiskey swilling S-R scribe who bestowed such nicknames as the "Phantom of the Palouse" on Hugh Campbell and "The Throwin' Samoan" on Jack Thompson, Thorpe is matter-of-fact.
"No, I don't think I have quite that edge," Thorpe said earlier this week in the middle of his move to Pullman. "I'm no Hunter S. Thompson ... I'm not above having a glass of whiskey, and I've spent a lot of time sitting (in the press box) next to John McGrath (TNT columnist), but it hasn't rubbed off."
Fortunately for us, Thorpe talks pretty fast so we were able to cover a lot of ground in a narrow window. Here are highlights from the conversation...
CF.C: How did you get into sports writing?
JACOB: "I loved sports, I was a three-sport varsity athlete (in high school) but certainly not good enough to continue in college ... I've always loved writing and it seemed like a perfect way to mesh two things I love doing."
This summer Thorpe covered the Mariners for MLB.com, and he interned for 710 ESPN the past two summers, where he got to better know Jim Moore, and Jessamyn McIntyre as well. At the UW, he worked at The Daily all four years, joining the staff when Caple was the sports editor there. He also did a variety of freelance work over the years.
How does it feel to be a UW graduate walking into one of the most visible roles in the Cougar sports world?
"It feels really, really good to be a young, graduated college journalist covering a BCS school for one of the most passionate fan bases ... I'm really excited to be a part of that ... I'm really excited to get to cover such a unique team. Obviously there's a lot of excitement with this team and the isolation of Pullman has done nothing to dampen that enthusiasm."
The buzz around the Cougar Nation is that Joe Palmquist (S-R sports editor and a WSU graduate) had misgivings about hiring a WSU grad for this post for fear of crimson loyalty standing in the way of objectivity. If you take that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, wouldn't misgivings also hold for hiring a dreaded UW grad into the position?
"I don't know anything about that. I think you'd have to ask Joe ... Joe I think saw I could do a professional job, and I have more loyalty to my readers than I would towards a school I matriculated from ... I feel I'm certainly able to compartmentalize and do a professional job in covering Washington State ... I have a lot of experience and I'm a hard worker. I think Joe looked at the work I did on the MLB.com beat... and writing on the college level the past four years and I think he felt I knew the territory and could do the job."
Have you ever been to Pullman before?
"Yes, I've covered two Apple Cups, and I've visited there as well."
What nuggets of advice have you received from your predecessor at the Spokesman (Caple)? How about his predecessor, Vince Grippi?
"Christian has been great in terms of the Xs and Os of the beat. He's helped me out in telling me who to talk to, and on the technical side of things ... I haven't had a chance to meet Vince but I've long been an admirer of his and I'm looking forward to getting to know him."
Some Cougar fans on our message boards have looked up some of your work on Seattle SB Nation, The Daily, etc. They argue some of your writing indicated homerism toward the UW. How would you respond to them?
"I would say I'm sorry they felt that way -- when someone is exclusively covering a beat on one team and in analyzing a columnist's work, I'm sure it can look that way to some people ... but I'm also sure UW fans probably felt I was too hard on the team. I always tried to be fair and to give people a view from both sides..."
Who's the most interesting person you have ever interviewed, and how do you think Mike Leach will compare?
"The most interesting is probably Raul Ibanez. He's a very cerebral guy who takes a unique approach to his answers ... from what I can tell from Leach he's also a very cerebral guy and he's not affected by public opinion -- that's not to say he doesn't care but he is obviously very rational and logical and comes up with his own answers. And I think that's unique and refreshing in an industry where so much of what you hear is coach-speak."
Leach is of course known for giving great answers to off-the-wall questions. Do you have one at the ready for your first day?
"No, I find the best off-the-wall comes from the unexpected. I wouldn't want to try to go fishing."
What Cougar player do you plan to do a feature story on first and why? And don't worry, we won't try to beat you to him.
"Certainly I think it will be very interesting to follow the play of Damante Horton at corner ... Deone Bucannon has had to carry the weight back there for so long, and Horton and Daquawn Brown are starting to emerge."
Have you ever heard the story about Ryan Leaf firing a pass at former S-R beat writer Mike Sando's head during the 1997 season because he didn't like something Sando had written? Has anything like that ever happened to you?
"I first heard that story at a journalism camp at high school ... I've never had anything like that happen to me."
The closest Thorpe said he ever get to being involved in the action came when shooting some video of the UW hoops team and Terrence Ross nearly came down on his head following an alley-oop dunk.
Aside from the two clear contenders, Jack Thompson and Mel Hein, who would you consider the greatest Cougar footballer of all time?
"I don't know if he's the greatest but the one I admire the most is Will Derting. From his whole story of when he was recruited without a phone, and then he just killed it out there for Washington State. He's someone that people still talk about so reverently ... he embodied a lot of what the fan base wants to see in the team."
New WSU beat writer a big Derting fan
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