Theron West aims to be Coug hammer in '14

PULLMAN -- What a difference a day makes. Theron West's out-of-nowhere, head-turning performance in the New Mexico Bowl in December has him in a high-powered frame of mind as he eyes the start of spring practices at Washington State next month. The fifth-year-senior-to-be also tells he's getting inspiration from a pint-sized source.

"It changed a lot," the 5-7, 172-pound running back said of his outlook following the bowl game – a game in which he blocked a punt that set up one Cougar touchdown, caught a 28-yard pass for another score, and finished with 67 total rushing and receiving yards.

Prior to that contest, he had touched the ball four times all season -- blocking a punt against Oregon State, forcing a fumble at Cal, rushing for a yard vs. Southern Utah, and returning a kick 30 yards against Auburn.

Spring ball is going to "get a little competitive," West says.

He'll be battling a large crowd for playing time. Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, the primary RBs of 2013, will back in action, and promising youngsters Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow will have their redshirts off.

That variety of choices and skill sets is "pretty great" for the Cougar offense, he says. "I feel like (the coaches) will put me in the right positions to make plays and whatever I can do to help the team is really everything. I'm going to compete every day."

AFTER RACKING UP MORE THAN 2,000 all-purpose yards and setting return records in two years at Los Angeles Harbor College, West had a variety of scholarship offers and chose Washington State for one big reason.

"The family atmosphere here, the coaches -- we bonded ... Everything worked out in my favor. I have a 20-month old son and a fiancé and the biggest thing is I wanted to make sure they were safe, especially coming from California."

West is from Compton, where he prepped at Centennial High.

He and his fiancé, Candace, have been together for almost eight years. Their son, Theron Jr., was 12 days old when dad arrived in Pullman to begin his 2012 redshirt season.

Being a dad at an early age accelerated the maturation process, says West. He feels the need to be a role model at all times.

"He pushes me, he pushes a lot of us here," West said of his son. He cited Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan as teammates who also are motivated by the presence of Theron Jr. and the desire to give him positive examples. "We all feed off of his energy … we push every day. They hold me accountable for it and I hold them accountable for it every day as well."

West's older sister, Kortney, is another source of motivation for him.

In 2003, not long after graduating with a bachelor's degree from Cal State Northridge, she was the victim of a shooting, hit by a bullet in her right eye. She survived but the recovery wasn't easy. Yet she still managed to earn her master's degree a few years later.

From that point on, West said, he wouldn't make excuses or complain about anything. If his sister could overcome adversity of that magnitude, he wouldn't let life's daily grind ever get him down.

So last season, as the touches went elsewhere, he kept his attitude up and did everything he could to make a mark on special teams.

When his time came in the New Mexico Bowl, he was ready. But he was also appreciative. Talking with reporters after the game, he repeatedly deflected credit for his success to teammates and coaches.

COMING FROM COMPTON, A notoriously rough community, West said he hopes to be a role model for kids there.

"I got a lot of my friends back at home and they talk to me like ‘How can I better myself this way?' and the one biggest thing is go to school," West said. "You use your talent to help you get to a place in life to establish yourself ... so if you can help them change their mindset then you're liable to change the world.

"A lot of people think you're a gang banger or a thug, not very smart. I just wanted to get out and show some people there are good people in Compton as well," adds West, who plans to become a guidance counselor.

He said his desire to give back grew stronger upon arriving in Pullman. The friendly environment was an eye opener to him.

"You get back home and I just want them to understand there's more to it, the world's bigger than just right here," he said.

Until his guidance counselor dream is fulfilled, West will look to inspire his teammates and encourage them to buy into the mantra of Cougar assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Eric Russell: Be the hammer, not the nail.

It's a phrase West has bought into in more ways than one. In addition to displaying his commitment to the philosophy on the field, he bears his interpretation of the message on his left arm in the form of a tattoo. Just above his mother and siblings' names is a large tattoo of the word "strength."

"You gotta stay strong in life," West said. "I really bought into that ‘be the hammer, not the nail' because it's about strength. Whether it's physically, mentally, emotionally, you just gotta be strong. Whether it's beating the guy across from you, I always want to win. I feel like I'm mentally stronger, I'll win there, if I'm physically stronger, I'll win there."

West said he plans to pass those same principles on to his son, along with the idea no dream is too big. He wants his son to envision more than football and look into law, medicine, or even becoming president.

"Sky's the limit. You can be anything in life that you put your mind to," West said. "You never want to limit yourself, whatever you want to put your mind to you can do it."

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