Mr. Double-Single gears for his last stand

PULLMAN -- Given the amount of attention devoted to Washington State's quarterback situation this season, the player who is perhaps closest to the situation has gone largely unnoticed. That player, senior center Nick Mihlhauser, has quietly been the co-anchor and best overall talent on an offensive line that is among the finest in the Pac-10.

Along with senior right guard Norvell Holmes, Mihlhauser leads an O-line that has propelled the Cougars to the top of conference charts in several categories. WSU ranks third in the Pac-10 in both total offense (487.4 yards per game) and rushing offense (210.8 yards per game), while scoring more than 34 points per game. Nationally, the Cougars rank No. 16 in rushing.

"We've been doing what we said we were gonna do all year," Mihlhauser said of the O-line. "We've seen every kind of defense, and we picked up on everything."

It's not the "picking up" part that landed Mihlhauser on the watch list for the Rimington Award, given each year to the nation's finest center. He has great feet and a running back's balance.

This year's opening night, against Idaho, offered a glimpse into what the OL and Harrison would accomplish this season. Mihlhauser appeared hellent to make the lineman's double-single --- two effective blocks on two different defenders on the same snap.

Mihlhauser came to WSU from Arroyo Grande (Calif.) High. His father, Bob, played football at UCLA. In what is actually a rare accomplishment for offensive linemen at this level, Mihlhauser played as a true freshman in 2002, even making one start at left guard. WSU offensive line coach George Yarno has coached college ball for 15 years, and said he's only had one other lineman that didn't redshirt. That lineman (Ben Wilkerson, LSU) now plays in the NFL.

Mihlhauser split time between center and guard as a sophomore, making nine starts that season. Last year, he took the reigns at center and hasn't looked back. He has paved the way for 1,000-yard rushers Jonathan Smith and Jerome Harrison, and protected quarterbacks Jason Gesser, Matt Kegel, Josh Swogger and Alex Brink. While the stars around him may have changed, Mihlhauser has been one constant on the Cougars' offense for the past four seasons.

While the NFL is definitely an option for the 6-foot-4, 280-pounder, Mihlhauser said he wants to follow in his father's footsteps and become a firefighter whenever his playing days are over.

Meanwhile, he and trench-mate Norvell Holmes will wrap up their college careers this Saturday at Washington.

Once he is finished, Mihlhauser will pass the torch of line leadership to sophomore Bobby Byrd and juniors Charles Harris and Sean O'Connor. He'll also be leaving proud footsteps for the likes of youngsters Kenny Alfred, Dan Rowlands and Andy Roof to follow in.

"He's had a great impact, him and Norvell," offensive line coach George Yarno said. "They've played at a high level throughout the year, and the line gelled together because of them. They'll be difficult to replace."

Harrison needs 307 yards Saturday to crack 2,000 for the season. For most backs, that's at least three games worth of distance to cover. The way Mihlhauser and the rest of the hosses have opened holes this season, don't discount the possibility.



Mihlhauser, Brink spearhead the attack.



APPLE CUP NOTES:
Cougar and Husky fans raised over $164,293 part of the "Tackling Hurricane Relief" program with WSU partisans contributing $97,947 while the UW donated $66,346. For raising the most money, Washington State has its school colors, logo and a message of encouragement painted on top of the Space Needle through the Apple Cup weekend. To view a slideshow, KIRO-TV sent this link our way: Space Needle Cougar slideshow on KIRO-TV.com


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