Seen & Heard 7/28

THE POWER OF WSU'S THREE consecutive 10-win seasons has finally resonated with West Coast football writers. This week they picked the Cougars for an upper-division finish in the Pac-10, despite the fact the mighty cats return fewer starters than almost any team in all of Division I-A.

Save for 2002, when Jason Gesser and the Cougars were predicted to (and ultimately did!) finish No. 1, the beat writers traditionally give WSU short shrift in their annual August prognostications. One of the more glaring examples; the 1997 season when they tabbed Ol' Wazzu for 7th and the Cougars, with Ryan Leaf at the helm, captured the title.

By picking the Cougars No. 5 for this season even in the face of no experienced quarterback, the writers are acknowledging what we faithful know so well: Washington State doesn't have a good football team, it has a great program.

For the record, the writers unanimously chose USC No. 1, followed in order by Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, WSU, Arizona State, Washington, UCLA, Stanford and Arizona.

WORD OUT OF SPOKANE is that recently graduated Cougar defensive tackle Jeremey Williams' troublesome hamstring is finally back in fighting trim, giving the 284-pound honorable mention All-Pac-10 pick hope he can hook up as a free agent with an NFL team. The days are dwindling, though, as NFL clubs open summer workouts in a week.

Regardless of what may transpire on the gridiron, Williams' future looks more than bright. This past year, you see, he accomplished something in the classroom that's shared by only four other football players in the history of the Conference of Champions. He was named first-team All-Academic for the FOURTH time.

One of Williams' Cougar linemates, defensive end D.D. Acholonu, recently signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans after being released by Buffalo. He's being converted to outside linebacker.

SPEAKING OF OLD COUGAR greats, Chris Hayes, fresh off a nine-year run in the NFL, announced that he's writing a book -- titled "I Ain't Playing" -- about the business of football and its lessons for facing the challenges of everyday living.

"I Ain't Playing" is slang that means "those who go beyond the expectations of what is dealt to them."

Hayes came to WSU from the projects of San Bernardino, Calif., and became a standout linebacker under the watchful eye of then-Cougar defensive coordinator Bill Doba. Professionally, he played at safety and starred on special teams for the Jets, Packers and, most recently, Patriots. Hayes' 1997 Packer team defeated Drew Bledsoe's Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

THE NEXT TIME SOMEONE asks you to explain the phrase "It's a Cougar thing," just give them this example: When two of CF.C's most beloved messsage board regulars--Bestcougr and NitzTheCoug learned that the young son of a frequent Husky visitor to the boards was to undergo open heart surgery last week, they promptly spearheaded a campaign to send the youngster and his family cookies, cards, gifts and--most importantly--well wishes and prayers. Not surprising, then, that one of these same two message boarders express mailed our managing editor homemade cookies (the size of small frisbees, we might add) to his home in Spokane---from her home in North Carolina when learning his dad would undergo heart surgery recently. Meanwhile, the other enlisted the prayers of her entire church community on his behalf. That, my friends, is a Cougar Thing.

THAT SPECIAL BRAND of Cougar spirit, caputured well by the phrase "Once a Coug, Always a Coug," was on display last week with an announcement out of Montlake. Rueben Mayes, the associate dean for development at the University of Washington's business school for the last several months following many years in various roles at WSU, is returning to Ol' Wazzu. He will be leaving his UW post on August 10 to return to Pullman in the newly created position of director of development for the office of undergraduate education. Welcome back to the greatest running back in Cougar history.

FOR THOSE OF YOU who are devotees of baseball box scores and league leader lists, this will come as no surprise, but former Cougar catcher Scott Hatteberg, now a regular at first base for the Oakland A's, was robbed when he was left off the AL All-Star Game roster. Hatteberg spent much of the first half of the season among the top dozen hitters in the American League –- and his current .300 average is still among the best today. To think the Yankees' Jason Giambi, hitting .230 and with no power, was voted the AL's starting All-Star first baseman is enough to make you want to scrap the fan balloting that determines starting line ups.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The Cougar football team reports for summer camp on August 8, with the first round of workouts the following day. WSU opens the season on Sept. 3 at New Mexico in a nationally televised Friday night game on ESPN. The "home" schedule starts Sept. 11 in Seattle against Colorado and good seats are still available. Call 1-800-GO-COUGS to get yours.

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