Seen & Heard on Plant Coug 4/16

TO BE HONEST, I had a lot of concerns when Washington State's spring drills started up a few weeks back. But, as it turned out, it was nothing some solid QB play, a swaggering defense, the gelling of the O-line, and a few dozen Marty Martin touchdown catches couldn't cure. But it has been the performance of one player in particular that has pleased me the most.

Allen Thompson.

The junior running back from Sweetwater High in National City, Calif., has had one solid spring, highlighted by a 72 yard performance, on 14 carries, in the second scrimmage. And the fact that the back who has been labeled "injury-prone" has done it, in large part, by running over and through defenders makes it even sweeter.

Not that the injury tag doesn't have some merit, however unfair it may seem.

Thompson was one of just six true freshmen to play for the 2001 Sun Bowl champion Cougs. More impressive still, he started in place of an injured Dave Minnich in a crucial week six contest at Stanford. After a strong three quarters, the injury bug bit in the form of a high ankle sprain that shelved him for the remainder of the season.

And that was just the beginning of his sick-bay woes.

He injured his shoulder prior to the 2002 season, was cleared to play in week five against Cal, but reinjured it, again sidelining him for the season.

And the injury bug wasn't done there, either. After a promising 2003 fall camp, Thompson again injured his shoulder and never took the field.

But every cloud has a silver lining right? Or, in this case, three silver linings, as in three years of eligibility left for AT. I may be putting the cart way before the horse on this, but Thompson is all but a lock for a rare sixth year of eligibility, also known as a medical redshirt.

Of course, he can't even apply for it until his eligibility is exhausted following the end of the 2005 season, but NCAA case history says it's a certainty (did I just say NCAA and certainty in the same sentence?).

Take Oklahoma QB Jason White, for example. He played in two games in 1999 before injuries ended that season. he was granted a medical hardship. Then, in 2002, he played in another two games before again missing the remainder of the season due to a knee injury. The NCAA granted him a sixth year on December 19, 2003, a mere six days after he won the Heisman.

Of course, Cougar safety Virgil Williams had to wait a helluva lot longer than that. In fact, his sixth year wasn't granted until deep into the spring of 2003. VW had played in just two games in 2000 and missed the entire '01 season.

Many who had written Williams off as another gridiron causality had plenty of crow to eat when the strong safety played a crucial role in two great Cougar defenses and earned honorable mention All Pac-10 honors in 2003. Oh, and did I mention he'll likely be signing with a NFL club soon?

I'm thinking a similar happy ending is in store for Thompson.

He was a talented college punter, earning all-league honors at Mississippi Southern. He was a WSU graduate assistant in charge of the development of a troubled—and phenomenal—recruit named Ray Lee. He was the deep-pocketed CEO of Blue Earth Deer Whistles, Inc., a self-made millionaire attempting to purchase the naming rights to the Martin Stadium field. And, finally, he was a former Cougar football walk-on and chair of the Greater North Spokane Events advisory committee, seeking to return Cougar football games—including an Apple Cup—back to Joe Albi stadium in Spokane.

We're talking about the talented Jeff Barker, of course, who played a prominent role in each of our April Fools articles these past few years.

The "real" Jeff Barker, a 1984 Wazzu grad, is director of marketing for Seattle based Hornall Anderson Design, one of the leading branding and design firms on the West Coast, and is an old college chum of the Witter boys. Jeff has very much enjoyed being the protagonist of the CF.C April Fools trilogy, noting that he's been lying about his true identity in bars across the land for the past twenty years.

Gotta be honest with you, after watching film and hearing Bill Doba talk about incoming Cougar Loren Langley at the Tacoma dinner earlier this year, I all but inked the Puyallup kicker in as the starter for next fall.

Not so fast, my friend!

Junior footman "Golden" Graham Siderius has made the most of spring drills, booting with a combination of accuracy and distance that hasn't been seen in these part since—dare I say it?—Jason Hanson roamed the Palouse.

Couldn't be happier for the guy, either. The Reno Bambino has been a sentimental favorite of mine since the day he announced he was a Coug on the CF.C message board. And more importantly, he is, by all accounts, one heckuva guy.

Still, I've learned my lesson (and I remember the film I saw of Langley splitting in the uprights on a kick-off!) and will just write my roster projections in pencil from now on.

The 1936 Gray roster (or was it the Crimsons?) had a pretty impressive roster, including Mel Hein, Turk Edwards, and Phil Sarboe.

Why did I feel the need to point this out? Because those three Cougar greats were on NFL rosters at the time, that's why! Back in the day, the annual C & G contest pitted the current Cougars against alumni players. Not quite sure when this stopped, but our esteemed executive editor recalls witnessing such a spring game as a small child circa 1970.

Can you imagine NFL clubs and agents today allowing Drew Bledsoe, Jason Hanson, Steve Gleason, Mark Fields, etc. to partake in such a contest? Not hardly, and that's—although fiscally understandable—a damn shame.

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