Abdullah flying south

ANOTHER SEMINAL EVENT, in what for Hamza Abdullah promises to be a season full of them, will occur this week in his home state of California. Along with coach Bill Doba, the senior will be traveling to Los Angeles to take part in the Pac-10's annual Media Day.

For one of the most vocal leaders on the 2004 Cougs, it should prove to be quite the trip. And while the day marks the unofficial start of the college football season for many fans, Abdullah's season started long ago...The media had better bring their A-game, because the Cougs are bringing theirs.

Hamza Abdullah will be accompanying coach Bill Doba to L.A. this week to take part in the conference's Media Day. The event, at which the annual Pac-10 preseason poll is unveiled*, will be held this Wednesday, July 28. (*The poll was released a day early by the Pac-10; WSU was tabbed to finish 5th by the West Coast media members who regularly cover the league.)

Heading down to Los Angeles will be something of a bonus for Abdullah. The Pomona product will have the opportunity to see some family members in the area; and the 6-3, 209-pound safety is definitely excited about making the trip.

Excitement is something Abdullah brings to the table each and every day.

ABDULLAH WAS NAMED a team captain, along with Will Derting, Sam Lightbody and Josh Swogger, by the coaching staff in April. He's been an outstanding leader throughout this offseason.

"Hamza is already starting to do a great job as a leader in the weight workouts, some of those things in the offseason," defensive coordinator Robb Akey told Cougfan.com way back in February.

Later on, during Spring Ball, coach Doba echoed the sentiment; "Hamza Abdullah is an awesome guy. He is a great leader out there. He gets excited about plays, high-fiving guys and showing a lot of enthusiasm.."

If all this seems reminiscent of another Cougar great, one who played the same position, it should..

Erik Coleman (Getty/Greule)

ONE OF ABDULLAH'S closest friends is Erik Coleman; one of the best safeties to ever to don the Crimson and Gray and 5th round draft pick of the NY Jets this past April. In addition to each being named a team captain their senior year at Washington State, the two share a number of similar traits.

During a Rose Bowl practice, Coleman's shoulder popped clean out of the socket. Despite the pain, he strapped the injured shoulder in a harness and went on to rack up a team-leading 10 tackles against Oklahoma; also recovering a fumble for good measure. The shoulder required surgery, keeping Coleman out of the spring ball in '03 -- to a degree, anyway.

Coleman's dedication and leadership was indelibly stamped upon the Cougar program throughout the month-long session. Every meeting, every single practice - there he was; fully involved in every aspect of Spring Ball, despite the injury.

Abdullah certainly took note of Coleman's leadership that Spring. He also bore witness to what Coleman did on the field -- as a leader and as a player -- during his WSU career.

Fast forward to this year. Abdullah is bringing that same kind of approach to the Cougs in 2004. The senior fractured his clavicle in the scrimmage on Day 12 of Spring Ball. (He should be fully recovered and ready to go for the beginning of Fall Camp on August 8.)

Yet for the final two practices plus the Crimson & Gray game, Abdullah was right back out there. Not only that, he was still probably the most vocal player on the field, broken collarbone be damned.

Abdullah could be seen, (and certainly heard), motivating players, asking questions, shouting encouragement -- acting like another coach out on the gridiron.. just as Coleman did the previous Spring..

The loss of a leader such as Coleman might create a vacuum at another school; one difficult to overcome. Not at Washington State. Through words and actions, Abdullah has seized the mantle of those who have come before him, helping to make the players around him that much better..

This kind of leadership, whose roots stretch back more than a decade at WSU, is simply invaluable to a program.

ON THE FIELD, Abdullah's exploits have earned him increased time and responsibilities the past two years. In addition to special teams play during the Rose Bowl season, Abdullah was a part of the nickel and dime; he played in the defensive backfield throughout the course of 2002, (as did Jeremy Bohannon.)

In 2003, both Abdullah's and Bohannon's performance gave the coaches the luxury of not only utilizing the pair in the nickel and dime packages, but also to be rolled in to rest starters Coleman and Virgil Williams.

"We've got confidence in Hamza Abdullah and Jeremy Bohannon," explained Akey. "There's already two years of game experience (in the defensive backfield) there."

(And keep in mind there's another Abdullah in the WSU pipeline; brother Husain Abdullah is a developing talent at defensive back. A redshirt freshman this season, his career will be well worth following over the coming years.)

Hamza Abdullah
(WSU photo)

With Abdullah taking over the starting free safety spot for Coleman, he may be seen by some as simply 'one of the new players' on a defense sporting nine new faces in the starting lineup. That's not the whole story. And the fact he's a new starter certainly doesn't translate to being an inexperienced one.

During this 30-8 run -- and despite injuries that have kept him out of some contests -- Abdullah has played in 29 games over his career, many times when the game was on the line.

For Abdullah, whether a critical game situation, assuming a leadership role or having a gaggle of mikes placed in front of him... no stranger to crunch time is he.

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