Fall Camp: Day 12

PULLMAN -- The path to playing time can be a winding one for some players. But the route taken by <b>Brian Winter</b> -- a walk on who figures to see plenty of action now that <b>Will Derting</b> is injured -- is about as circuitous as it gets.

You may be wondering: Brian who?

Only the most devout Coug fans even know the name. A year ago, playing almost exclusively on special teams, he saw action in seven games and had two tackles. For the record, that's one more tackle than running back Jonathan Smith posted last year and one less than receiver Devard Darling put on the stat sheet.

But what a difference a week makes. Derting dislocated his left wrist Sunday, triggering a shuffle among the already thin linebacking corps to plug the hole in the middle. And, suddenly, Brian Winter's name is penned in on the two-deep depth chart behind Pat Bennett at weakside LB.

How Winter, a 6-2, 218-pound fifth-year senior from Tacoma, arrived at this fork in the road is testament to good timing, commitment and, above all, a passion for the game.

A prep sprint champion at Curtis High, Winter had scholarship offers from a number of colleges -- including WSU -- to run track. But he wanted to player football, too, so he packed his bags for the only place that would let him: Citrus Community College in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, about 20 miles east of the Rose Bowl.

Winter spent a year there, earning all-league recognition in track and lettering in football. "I got a little homesick," Winter said sheepishly. So he decided to head to Pullman and join the Cougar track team. When he arrived on campus, Winter confessed to track coach Rick Sloan that while he liked to run, his true passion was .... football.

So Winter walked-on to the Cougar football team as a receiver. That was two seasons ago. He later switched to linebacker. But no matter how far down the depth chart he was, he never lost his love for the game.

"He's a hard worker, and that says a lot for him," said WSU linebackers coach Leon Burtnett, noting that the former sprinter's dedication and talent earned him enough playing time to letter on last year's 10-win team. "He's a walk-on who has made a big contribution to this football team."

Practicing all this week with the second-unit defense, Winter is eager to show what he belongs. "It's a great opportunity," Winter said, "I'm excited to be in this position."

And as we were going to press with this story, Bennett tweaked a hamstring that is likely to shelve him for a few days.

That circuitous path of Winter's now has him running with the first team.

No word yet on whether the lack of depth at linebacker will prompt coaches to burn a redshirt, or two, among WSU's talented class of freshmen 'backers. If they do, the early forecast from the armchair types is that 6-1, 200-pound Alex Hamill of Couer d' Alene's Lake City High would be the one.

Receiver Jason Hill missed practice Friday because of a left wrist injury, but X-rays showed no break. Fellow receivers Greg Prator (hamstring) and Tramaine Murray (left foot) are also hobbling.

Cornerback Karl Paymah missed practice (ankle sprain) on Friday as well. Offensive lineman Mark Matthey suffered a hip flexor during morning workouts, while tight end Cody Boyd had a hamstring strain in the morning session, but returned to the evening practice.

In addition, defensive end Reyshawn Bobo has a sprained thumb and end mate Matt Mullenix was out with a hip flexor.

Three players -- defensive back Aaron Joseph, offensive lineman Riley Fitt-Chappell and running back Allen Thompson -- have concussions. While Fitt-Chappell and Thompson have been cleared to practice early next week, Joseph needs further evaluating.

Derting will be in a cast for two weeks and will be reevaluated August 31 -- four days before the season opener at New Mexico. There is cautious optimism he could play in that game.

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