PAUL SORENSEN (WSU Photo)

Multi-dimensional Paul Sorensen leads new WSU Hall of Fame class, calls it 'beyond humbling' and salutes old teammates, coaches

PAUL SORENSEN made his first mark at Washington State as one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs of his era. In his All-America senior season of 1981 he co-captained the Cougars to their first bowl game in 50 years. But that’s just the beginning of this crimson tale.

Following NFL and USFL stints, Sorensen went to work at WSU as the Cougar Club director in Spokane. And in 1985 he joined Bob Robertson in the booth of Cougar football broadcasts and was a colorful fixture there for 14 seasons, calling some of the most memorable games in WSU history, including the 1988 upset of No. 1 UCLA, the 1992 Snow Bowl and all the milestones on the way to the 1998 Rose Bowl.

In 1999, he put on yet another crimson-colored hat, as Cougfan.com’s first celebrity columnist. He’s still toiling for us 18 years later and has been recognized for excellence by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Now comes the ultimate line-item on this Walnut Creek, Calif., product's Cougar resume: Legend.

Sorensen will be inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame on September 22. The 2017 class of six individual inductees and the 1968 track and field team was announced today by Cougar athletic director Bill Moos.

In addition to Sorensen, the honorees are:

  • Dominique Arnold (track and field, 1994-96): The 1996 NCAA 110m Hurdles champion, also took the MPSF Indoor title in the 55m hurdles.
  • Sue Durrant (women’s coach, 1963-82): Led WSU to a 134-99 mark as the women’s basketball coach AND was also WSU's volleyball compiling a 67-35 record.
  • Mike Kinkade (baseball, 1992-95): Set WSU career records for hits (304), runs (230) and doubles (75)…played six major league seasons.
  • Marcia Miles (basketball, 1982-86): Finished her WSU career second in scoring (1,485 points), scoring average (15.0 ppg) and was ninth in rebounds (429). A two-time All-Northern Pacific Athletic Conference First-Team selection.
  • Diana Pickler (track & field, 2004-07): Five-time All-American at WSU, she was the 2007 Pac-12 heptathlon champion and set school records for both pentathlon and heptathlon. She was WSU’s Pac-10 Conference Medal recipient in 2007.
  • 1968 men's track and field team. Missed the national championship by one point to USC. Had three NCAA individual champions on the team: Gerry Lindgren (5000m & 10,000m), John van Reenen (Discus) and Carl O'Donnell (Javelin) and 400m hurdles runner Boyd Gittins was a runner-up. This was the first of five runner-up finishes for WSU at the NCAA Championships.

The new class will be inducted at a dinner gala in Spokane on Sept. 22 and then feted in Pullman the following day with festivities around the WSU-Nevada football game.

“I’ve bled crimson since the moment I enrolled at WSU in 1979 and the Cougar family – and that’s what it is, a family – has been a major part of my life ever since,” Sorensen told CF.C moments ago. “To say this is a huge honor doesn’t begin to describe the feeling. And to be inducted alongside people who I truly consider WSU royalty is beyond humbling. I really can’t express how touched I am.”

Sorensen came to WSU from California’s Diablo Valley College, where he was two-way standout and earned dozens of scholarship offers. He verbally committed to Stanford but when coach Bill Walsh left the Cardinal for the 49ers, new coach Paul Wiggum told him to get lost. Sorensen ultimately chose the Cougars over Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Sorensen quickly made a name for himself in Pullman as a starting safety and all-academic selection. Cougar senior linebacker Scott Pelluer was a true mentor, helping smooth the transition, Sorensen said.

In 1981, Sorensen – like the Cougars – exploded onto the national scene. WSU finished the regular season ranked No. 20 and Sorenson earned first-team, second-team or honorable mention All-America recognition from Football News, NEA, The Sporting News and The Associated Press. He was first-team All-Coast and All-Pac-10, WSU team MVP, and an all-academic pick for the second time.

“I had the incredible fortune at WSU to play for outstanding coaches – Jim Walden, Bob Padilla, Harold Wheeler, Jimmy Burrows, Mel Sanders, Dave Elliott, Lindsay Hughes and Del Wight – and alongside guys you were proud to go into battle with because you knew they always had your back and you knew there wasn’t an ounce of quit in any of them," he said.

“Our '81 defense – we were called Padilla’s Gorillas – was really something special. We had a bunch of junkyard dogs out there ... guys like Lee Blakeney, Mike Walker, Matt Elisara, Ken Emmil, Brent White, Ken Collins, Pat Lynch, Mark Pleis, Sonny Elkinton, Rico Tipton, John Dreyer, Eric Williams, Keith Millard, Milford Hodge and my great comrades in the secondary – Jeff Files, Nate Bradley, John West, Rod Retherford, Peter Shaw, Joe Taylor, Cleve Bigalow, Mark Blocker, Rob Treece, Darren Talley and Bob Walsh. Even our punter, Tim Davey, was a scrapper.”

One of his greatest memories, Sorensen said, was shutting out Cal, 19-0, in a 52-mph wind storm in Spokane in the second-to-last-game of the 1981 regular season and learning in the fourth quarter that Washington had defeated USC. The result of it all meant that the Apple Cup the next week in Seattle would be for the Pac-10 championship.

"I won't lie, I really, really wanted to beat Cal because I grew up in their backyard and spent summers working out with half the guys on the team. Mouse Davis (Cal's offensive coordinator) gave me crap -- in a good way -- after the game for stealing all their plays."

Sorensen concluded that 1981 campaign with 77 tackles, 5 pass deflections, 4 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries and returned a blocked punt 43 yards for the winning TD at Colorado with 1:41 left in the game.

He became the first-ever JC transfer at WSU to earn first-team All-America honors. Jerome Harrison, in 2005, is the only other WSU JC transfer so recognized.

Sorensen played in the East-West Shrine and Japan Bowl all-star games and was taken in the fifth round of the NFL draft by Cincinnati despite chronic knee problems. He spent one season on the Bengals' practice squad and another on the 49ers' before moving to the Los Angeles Express of the USFL.

"We had tremendous leadership with (athletic director) San Jankovich and Jim Walden and his staff, and our team itself was so tight. We didn't have a single star like a Marcus Allen or John Elway, but we worked together and developed incredible chemistry.

"I've had two special experiences at WSU, as a student and player and as the color analyst for many years with Bob Robertson, who is one of the greatest broadcasters in college history. I am so grateful for both opportunities," Sorensen said.

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