Good Will hunting for final Apple Cup triumph

IT WAS A moment Bill Doba will never forget. At the Cougars' 2000 summer youth camp, former coach Mike Price wasn't convinced. The linebacker prospect didn't look fast enough to him. Didn't look big enough, either. The defining moment came when the ball was snapped, the running back spotted an opening and raced toward it. Will Derting closed in.

"The running back tried to go running through the line and he looked like he stepped on a land mine, (Derting) just blew him up," said Doba. "There's Will, comes right up over the top of him. I said 'I don't care how fast the guy runs, I want him on our side.' We offered him after that camp."

Will Derting wraps up his Washington State career Saturday in the Apple Cup. He's become a symbol of the school's football program for many, the small town kid who made good.

"Especially my first couple years here, I was pretty quiet about my home life and all that," said the Okanogan, Wash., native . "This year and last year, I've opened up a lot."

Indeed, after his three-interception, break out game against Nevada in 2002, the redshirt freshman was reluctant to go in front of the cameras.

"It's been neat to watch him grow up and mature," says Doba. "Now he can sit in front of this microphone and do an excellent job. He's become a man."

IN 2003 AT outside linebacker, Derting was virtually unstoppable. There was the 12 tackle, three sack performance at Notre Dame. The time he chased down Oregon State wide receiver James Newson from behind. The Holiday Bowl.

But then came the injuries, the change to middle linebacker and what Derting and many others call a whole lot of bad luck coupled with a confounding inability to make the big plays.

Last season, a broken wrist in fall practice meant Derting was unable to lift for most of the season. He never missed a game, but he couldn't practice. That, more than anything else, is what Derting says made for a lesser impact at the middle 'backer position -- not the move itself. Despite being undersized in the middle to begin with, a situation then exacerbated by the injury, he still led the Cougs in tackles last year.

In 2005, a knee injury in Week Four wiped out most of his season. Derting only returned just last week for 10-12 snaps as the knee stiffened up at halftime. He won't be 100 percent when he takes the field against Washington, but he's feeling better. Doba said his mere presence makes the Cougs better.

"He's just a special kid," said Doba. "So is Jerome Harrison. We really have a great bunch of guys on our football team. It's just a darned shame we haven't won a few more game for them."

Derting will likely get more snaps Saturday, ideally on passing downs where the stress on the knee is lessened being out in space.

"Football has given me so much," said Derting. "I don't want to stop playing and as long as I can play, I'll play."

DERTING SAYS THERE'S nothing he wants more than to go out with a win against the Huskies. The Cougs went to the Rose Bowl in the 2002 season, but his top two memories are the 2003 Holiday Bowl victory and the win over Washington last year -- a season in which the Cougs went 5-6. If WSU wins, they'll still finish under .500 for the second straight year at 4-7.

Derting doesn't foresee similar results at Washington State next season, although he said improvement is needed in all areas on defense. He also doesn't subscribe to the view WSU will always have valley years because of how Pullman's location plays into recruiting.

"Oh yeah, I look at these freshmen coming in," said Derting. "You watch the young guys, especially the linebackers cause I see them all the time, those are the guys that really stand out for me....I think if you're winning, guys will come to your school. Some guys don't like to live this far away (from home) but every guy I've ever talked to loves it here. Its a completely different atmosphere. Once they get here and once they get to know the guys..."

NFL SCOUTS TELL Doba there's much to like about Derting. Instincts, competitiveness, toughness, playmaking ability and a fast learner, Derting can do a lot of things on a football field. Its just a matter of health. A probable invitation to the combine will include plenty of MRIs and X-Rays.

"I always kid the guys if its not hurt at the time you go, it will be when those doctors get done yanking on it," quips Doba.

Then there's the character issue, something NFL teams are paying more attention to every year.

"He's genuine, I guess is the best way to put it," said Doba. "He hasn't always done everything right but when he does do something wrong, he's the first guy to come in and talk to you. He doesn't alibi."

If Derting passes his physical, Doba likes the senior captain's chances in the upcoming draft. If not, Doba said the undrafted free agent route might end up being a godsend for some team.

"He's a tough enough kid that I'm sure someone is going to give him a chance," said Doba.

AFTER SATURDAY, DERTING will play in both the Shrine Game and The Las Vegas Bowl. Offseason surgery to scope his knee remains a possibility.

He won't reach his goal of breaking into the top ten in career tackles, this season's injury saw to that. But Derting said a win Saturday will go a long ways towards putting an exclamation mark on his career. He recalls his first coach, when Derting was around the age of six, being a big Huskies fan.

"I remember arguing with him from about the second day I knew him," says Derting.

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