Death, taxes and Washington State's Joe Dahl

PULLMAN – In a world of uncertainty, Washington State takes comfort in knowing that only death and taxes are more certain than the steady excellence of senior offensive tackle Joe Dahl. “He’s been such a solid, consistent player since he’s been here,” o-line coach Clay McGuire said.

"Once he gets a concept or technique down, we don’t have to re-teach it, re-teach it, re-teach it," McGuire continued. "He’s got it, so you can continue to move forward. He’s got football smarts. He’s intelligent. He understands what we’re trying to do.”

WSU fans must wonder what the former coaching staff was trying to do when they failed to offer Dahl – who grew up a Cougars fan and starred at Spokane Valley’s University High -- a scholarship until he had committed to Montana.

Dahl redshirted with the Grizzlies in 2011 before transferring to Washington State in January 2012. He had to sit out the 2012 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, then started all 25 games the past two years. However, he didn’t go on scholarship until the end of his “rookie” season of 2013.

“That first year,” Dahl recalls, “I started 13 games. I was paying my whole way (with student loans). That was a rough one. That hurt the pockets a little bit.”

Dahl tells his story with a smile on his face. A 6-foot-5, 308-pound road grader on the field, Dahl is an exceedingly polite, easy-going fellow off the field. Former WSU quarterback Connor Halliday, who shared a house with Dahl in Pullman, once said Dahl would be his first choice if he had a sister who chose to date one of the Cougars.

“I’ve never met a more caring guy off the field,” Halliday said.

“Just an unbelievable kid,” McGuire said. “You wouldn’t meet a nicer kid.”

The nice kid knows how to turn into a tough kid when necessary. The 2014 Cougars led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 771 pass attempts – 134 more than any other team – and Dahl gave up just one sack. Mind you, that’s against rivals who revved up their pass rush because the Cougars ranked dead last in rushing yards (478) and carries (243). As the left tackle, Dahl protects the quarterback’s blind side.

“He’s almost flawless sometimes,” left guard Gunnar Eklund said.

“He’s very consistent with his technique,” McGuire said.

Dahl, an All-Pac-12 Conference honorable mention pick last year, modestly spreads around the credit for his one-sack season.

“There were a lot of times last year where I could have given up sacks, I could have given up tackles in the run game, but somebody helped me out,” Dahl said. “My (running) backs, my quarterback and my offensive linemen helped me out.”

Dahl, listed at 6-4 and 303 pounds last year, is stronger and fitter than ever. That won’t hurt one bit as he tries to fulfill his childhood dream of playing in the NFL.

“You just look at the guy,” quarterback Luke Falk said, “and you know he’s worked his butt off this season to look like a freakin’ freak.”

McGuire agrees.

“He’s really a physical specimen,” the coach said.

Like Falk, McGuire and Eklund rave about Dahl’s work ethic. Dahl says he’s gained almost 70 pounds since he was a first-team all-state defensive end and an All-Greater Spokane League offensive tackle and defensive end as a senior at University.

“He’s one of our strongest kids, one of our most explosive athletes,” McGuire said.

“Last year,” Dahl said, “I was kind of forcing the weight on. This year, I was able to kind of firm it up … I think I did a good job of working. A lot of that credit goes to our strength staff here, because they gave us great workouts and they get us motivated each and every day during the summer and offseason.”

Dahl started in basketball in high school, which usually indicates good athleticism for a lineman. Dahl isn’t so sure in his case.

“I think I got progressively worse at basketball over the years,” Dahl said, smiling. “I think the main thing is, I lost all touch (on shots). Probably around sophomore year I gained, like, 20 or 30 pounds in a year, so I lost all touch around the rim. And then my free-throw percentage went to about low 40’s. That’s not really what you want out there.”

Dahl may have struggled to score on the basketball court, but he has played a pivotal role in helping the Cougars score plenty on the football field. Dahl said he’s working to improve his run blocking this year, and he expects to get ample opportunity.

“I think we’ll run in the games more this year,” he said. “I think every year we’ve kind of had that feeling, but I definitely see the whole coaching staff and the whole offense focusing on it more this year. The quarterbacks have a lot of control (calling plays) in this offense, and I think they’ve been focusing more on emphasizing the run game. I think that will help them.”

Falk and Peyton Bender, two inexperienced young quarterbacks, are bidding to replace Halliday.

“Both these quarterbacks are doing a great job competing,” said Dahl, a business marketing major. “They both bring something a little different to the table.

“Peyton can play wherever he wants. He’s got a cannon for an arm when he wants to use it. Falk, he’s just got such a leadership (quality) to him. Even last year, when he started a few games (after Halliday was injured), he was a redshirt freshman and everyone rallied around him. He’s one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever met.”

Dahl said he never doubted he could play in the Pac-12, so the decision to transfer from Montana was not that difficult. He initially refused to back out of his verbal commitment to the Grizzlies, but he headed to Pullman after a few months in Missoula.

“I didn’t really have my heart into it,” he said. “I really regretted not giving myself a chance to come here. I didn’t really understand how to handle the recruiting process, and I didn’t really look to my parents as much as I should have.”

Dahl added, “If something turned around here and I wasn’t part of it, that would have killed me.”

Dahl has one last chance to help the Cougars turn things around, then he’ll aim for the pros.

“Luckily,” he says with a wry grin, “they turned it into a job in this country and you just can just play it and make a bunch of money. It’s a pretty good deal.”

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