Because Mike Leach has brought the WSU program to a pivotal point of evolution.
Washington State (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) is playing solid, competitive football this season. It’s been a long time coming.
Since 2003 there has been a slow, steady downturn in a program that had been built into one of the best in the west. Many have forgotten about the 2001-03 run where WSU became the first Pac-10 program to put together three straight 10-win seasons since the 1930s Trojans. That’s right. That’s a fact.
Cougar Nation has supported their teams through some pretty tough times since the 2003 Holiday Bowl win over No. 5 Texas. Documenting just how low the program sank isn’t necessary to the process of putting the 2015 team in context. Let’s just say it’s been a lengthy drought leading up to where Leach’s team is today.
Mike Leach and his résumé were greeted in Pullman with such ceremony it would have made a pop star blush. No question the pedigree of Leach warranted the adulation, but the level of immediate expectations overlooked the magnitude of the project he faced.
The agenda for Leach seemed simple at the time: All he had to do was tweak a few things and Cougar football would not just be playing in the postseason year in and year out, conference championships and trips to the Rose Bowl could be both expected and planned for by the faithful.
How long would it take to implement this turnaround? From the perspective of many fans, it should have only taken as much time as it took for Leach to sign his lucrative contract. For the typical fan, patience is a rare quality.
Leach and his assistant coaches have worked hard on teaching the Cougar student-athletes how to become top flight college football players -- but that's a process, one that doesn't happen overnight. At the same time, WSU fans have been challenged to remain passionate about following and supporting Cougar football as, until this season, the wins occurred almost as often as Leach speaking with candor about his players' injury status.
For those who have stayed the course, they are now being rewarded for their undying loyalty in more ways than one.
WSU is riding a three-game conference winning streak – raise your hand if you predicted that heading into the 2015 schedule. But there’s more. Cougar football student-athletes are excelling in the classroom at a level which ranks them near the top of the conference. There has also been a noticeable lack of Cougar players in the news for the wrong reasons this season. Mike Leach and his staff look to have instilled integrity into an age group of young men more often known for doing silly things they shouldn’t.
But let’s look ahead to this coming weekend.
Once again, the Cougs will roar out of their end zone tunnel with the enthusiasm and boundless energy necessary to play Pac-12 football on Saturday night. And they have earned the opportunity to play college football in front of a vocal, enthusiastic and supportive stadium packed to the rafters.
It shouldn’t matter that WSU will be hosting the No. 8 ranked Stanford Cardinal.
It shouldn’t matter whether or not ESPN Game Day finally located a route to travel into Pullman for their celebrated weekly tribute to college football.
It shouldn’t matter that ESPN has demanded kickoff be scheduled for 7:30pm to meet their scheduling requirements for maximum national viewership.
Why shouldn’t it matter?
Cougar Nation might do well to pause for a moment and remember what it’s like to take on the challenges of being a student-athlete. The time dedicated in the weight room to develop into being capable of playing top-half Pac-12 football is a commitment the majority are unwilling to do. The time dedicated to compete at the same high level in the classroom is something only elite students are willing to do. The roster of players Mike Leach leads is meeting those standards of commitment.
And just like 10-win seasons, this evolution of confidence has been a long time coming.
There were still 3,600 tickets remaining on Thursday morning. Those who will be on hand will take part in what figures to be an outstanding Pac-12 contest. For those on the fence about making the commitment to be a part of Cougar football in Pullman, think very seriously about experiencing the game live and personal.
Martin Stadium was rocking two weeks ago for an afternoon homecoming game. The first half alone, QB Luke Falk, OL Eduardo Middleton (pictured above) and a cast of many more in crimson were worth the price of admission -- in the first half alone. But work remains to rock Martin again on Halloween night.
So bring warm clothing. Bring your passion for a world class university. Bring your family and friends. Bring your Cougar Pride. Show your support for Washington State.
Every day is a good day to be a Coug. And they’re even more easily recognizable of late thanks in part to the positive evolution of Cougar football.
Best of all, the Leach era of Cougar football is loaded with fireworks, and darned exciting to watch. Why wouldn’t you want to be there Saturday?
To order tickets for Saturday, or the ASU and Colorado games, CLICK HERE