Summer assignment

Over the years, it's become routine. Leaf, Gleason, Newman, Lamont, Gesser -- and so many other others -- did the same thing with their summer breaks. They stayed in Pullman. WSU now regularly sees a 90-percent or better summer participation rate. The path to success at WSU travels through a scorched field baking under an Eastern Washington sun ... through long summer hours spent amongst the iron in the weight room. To wit: <b>Steve Dildine</b>. What he's done this offseason. Oh my.

They take the offseason seriously at Washington State.

These days, nearly every scholarship player AND key walk-ons stays in Pullman most of the summer. With the demands on their time during the year -- practice, traveling and games -- attending summer classes helps the players stay on academic track.

Another major part of the reason why is the work ethic and attitude of the players. And strength coach Rob Oviatt has played a key role in instilling that code of conduct.

Word out of Pullman is that linebacker Steve Dildine has put on another good 15 pounds of muscle since last season came to a close. Already a monster on special teams and seeing spot duty at linebacker in '03, Dildine clearly has been working exceedingly hard over the spring and summer months, (and that "15 pounds" is conservative. He looks huge.)

The development of the redshirt sophomore, both on the field and in the weight room, is a boon to an already strong linebacking corps. Along with Will Derting, Scott Davis and Pat Bennett, Dildine looks to be a key player this season in the middle of the gridiron.

"I think (the combination of those) four guys can really play well for us," defensive coordinator Robb Akey told CF.C this past Spring. "I think they can be a good crew of linebackers.. You look at those four because of the experience they have."

Coach Bill Doba and Akey last season each singled out Dildine and Scotty D as having done a tremendous job on special teams for the Cougs in '03.

Those two guys, Davis and Dildine, they will hit you.

Special teams has been a valuable training ground in developing Cougar linebackers over the years. And Dildine had a number of memorable plays in that role last season, including a couple of sticks at Oregon, where he simply decaffeinated the other guy.

THE PREVIOUS TWO years, many pundits in the preseason speculated the linebacker position could be a potentially weak link on the Cougar defense. With the emergence of, (among others), Mawuli Davis in '02... and Don Jackson in '03... the linebacking unit instead proved to be a real strength.

And in '04, linebackers coach Leon Burtnett will have some real talent at his disposal.

For his part, Dildine has been working his way up the depth chart since he arrived at WSU -- having been an either/or with Bennett last year as a frosh when an injury felled Al Genatone late in '03. Against Arizona State, Dildine was part of a defense that held the Sun Devils to 62 net yards rushing, a 1.8 yard average.

(The official statistician mistakenly lists Bennett as having started in place of Big Al against ASU. Dildine actually got the start, manning the OLB spot the first five series.)

But that's also not terribly important; both players got quality time, and Bennett had the huge pick off Andrew Walter he took to the house. When both players get roughly equal time, it doesn't matter quite as much who the 'starter' was at the beginning of the game.

What is important is the quality experience Dildine gained in that game and others last season. Dildine didn't get the same amount of experience in high school as most of his Cougar teammates..

AMONG VARIOUS OTHER honors and accolades, Dildine was named the Tacoma News Tribune's State Player of the Year in 2001.

Not bad for someone who only played one season of high school football.

Its been well documented on CF.C that Dildine was a BMX rider during his high school years.. pretty damn good one too. His first football competition since Jr. High came during his Senior year at Bethel. And what a senior year it was..

Starring at both running back and linebacker, the Bethel High product rushed for 2,265 yards -- the state's leading rusher in '01 -- and only the 27th player in State history to top the 2,000 yard mark at the time. Dildine also set another state record -- an attention-grabbing 45 all-purpose touchdowns.

Dildine then spent his redshirt year at WSU adding about 20 pounds, spread out across his 6-foot-1 frame. Next, he set about earning some quality playing time as a redshirt freshman for the Cougs in '03.

Dildine saw action in all 13 games last season, with 16 tackles and a fumble recovery. But the numbers don't really tell the story.

When he wasn't making the tackle, Dildine was often blowing up the play.. freeing others to get in on the hit. Along with Jason Hill, teams simply couldn't contain him on special teams. (Hill was simply ridiculous on special teams last season; the wide receiver looks to be something special. But his is a story for another time.)

WITH DILDINE NOW having added considerable size and strength this offseason, the Cougar Nation should be looking forward to watching him play this year.. the Cougar Nation should be looking forward to watching him hit people this year.

Said coach Doba of the linebacker just before the ASU game; "Dildine's going to be really good."

"He's got a great burst, good acceleration, and he's a tough kid. Get a little stronger in the weight room and learn the defense a bit better, and I think he's going to be an outstanding linebacker for us," Doba said.

"Get a little stronger in the weight room.."

Check.
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