COMMENTARY: Swoggs, we hardly knew ye

FORMER WSU STARTING QUARTERBACK Josh Swogger will transfer from Washington State to a Division I-AA school for his senior year. "Yes, I am going to leave," the 6-5, 247-pound quarterback told Josh Swogger talks about his relationships with the coaches at Washington State, Alex Brink, his decision to leave, the schools he's considering and more.

Swogger will not be wearing the crimson and gray next year, but he's leaving on a decidedly gracious and positive note.

"I have a great relationship with all the coaches, there's never been a sour note," said Swogger. "I don't fault them for anything. They did what they thought was best for the program and I understand that as a person, player and competitor. I wish them all the best, but I think it's just time for me to move on."

His role this year turned into being another coach of sorts. Starting and backup quarterbacks are often portrayed as being, at best, cautiously polite to one another but in the case of Swogger and Alex Brink, their friendship actually strengthened over the course of this 4-7 season.

"You never wish anything bad on the guy that you're playing with and more than anything, Alex and I, we became closer this year," said Swogger. "I think Alex is going to be a great quarterback here, and we get along great -- we get along better than ever."

Swogger also stressed repeatedly his appreciation for the fans at Washington State, saying he'll take fond memories away from his time in Pullman.

"I don't regret anything I did at Washington State," said Swogger. "I found my wife out here, I'm getting a good education, I had a ton of great experiences, I met a ton of great people."

In his only season as the starter, Josh Swogger threw for 1,283 yards and 13 TDs in six starts before a broken foot wiped out his sophomore season in 2004.

TRANSFERRING WITHIN Division I-A requires sitting out a year -- a year the redshirt junior does not have -- so the D-IAA options for the golden armed quarterback include Youngstown State, Montana State, Idaho State and others. No decision has been reached, with Swogger also saying he hasn't talked to Eastern Washington yet, with the Eagles currently in the midst of a playoff run.

All hold advantages but Swogger said Youngstown State might be the most intriguing, and not just because it's close to home. The talent includes all-world tight end and former Ohio State Buckeye and Ursuline High star Louis Irizarry, and the thought of being part of that on field tandem is compelling. Swogger's also talked with Cougar Jeremy Thielbar, now coaching TEs at Montana State. Wherever he goes, Swogger expects to work hard to earn a starting job and it will be a family decision, one he hopes to make sooner rather than later.

"The main thing will be can I get a chance to showcase my abilities, and are we going to get a chance to go to the playoffs and compete for a national championship," said Swogger.

Close to receiving his degree, Swogger leaves Pullman this December with wife Angie staying at WSU until May to complete her degree before leaving to join her husband.

EARLIER THIS YEAR, Swogger stated his intention to remain at WSU but after the final four games on the sidelines with no playing time in sight, and with just the one year of eligibility remaining, the decision was made.

"Going through the season, I was holding out to see if something was going to happen, to see if I was going to get a chance to play," said Swogger. "It didn't happen and they stuck with Alex. But there's no animosity or anything."

IN 2004, SWOGGER was pulled in the second quarter of the year's second game against Colorado, and then again for good in the third quarter. Coach Bill Doba said in hindsight, that decision was a mistake, one made too soon. Swogger then started and played the following week and beyond, until surgery ended his season.

Josh Swogger remained the consummate teammate over the course of a disappointing 4-7 season for the Cougs. "You never wish anything bad on the guy that you're playing with and more than anything, Alex and I, we became closer this year," said Swogger.

Last year's decision to change quarterbacks too early might help partially explain the coaching staff's reluctance to insert Swogger in ‘05. Despite Brink's struggles at times, Doba never appeared close to making a swith -- Swogger appeared in three games after the outcome had been decided.

"It's just not the place for me anymore," said Swogger. "I'm just really thankful for everyone who supported me."

In watching the year's practices day in and day out, observed a consummate professional in Swogger. Early on, he did not look especially sharp but it wasn't for lack of effort. His work ethic, attitude and professionalism were all beyond reproach.

In the latter half of the season, however, Swogger had heated up on the practice field, looking very sharp for the remainder of the year. He also stayed late and the younger players, including quarterback Gary Rogers, began to stay after practice right along with him. But his attitude never wavered at any point, whether he was practicing well that day or not. He was the textbook example of a team player, always volunteering to coaches Doba and Timm Rosenbach to do whatever he could to help the coaches, team and Brink.

"I think competition brings out the best in people and I think that brought out the best in Alex and I this year," he said.

Last year, Swogger threw for 1,283 yards and 13 TDs over six starts, despite playing through a variety of injuries including a fractured navicular bone in his foot. That stress fracture-turned-break ended Swogger's season, missing the final five weeks as Brink led the Cougs to a 2-3 record, including an Apple Cup win. Entering fall camp in '05, Swogger remained the starter but Brink was right on his heels, eventually winning the job by what the WSU coaches called a very narrow margin.

Swogger hits Darling in 2003

THE YEAR BEFORE, Swogger burst onto the scene, coming in for an injured Matt Kegel against ASU. The Vienna, Ohio, native looked like a fifth year senior in the pocket, not a redshirt freshman, hitting 14 of 20 for 207 yards including a surreal 22 yard TD strike to Darling under some beautifully cloudy Palouse skies.

On that day, the unflappable Swogger spread the ball amongst six different receivers, hitting virtually every quadrant of the field.

Jaws dropped that day, including that of Managing Editor, John Witter, as the Crimson Nation imagined Swogger running the WSU attack the next three years.

"I am witnessing the beginning moments of a kid's career who's going to be among the greatest Cougar quarterbacks ever," said Witter by cell phone during the Arizona State win. That praise didn't come lightly, Witter having been in Martin Stadium countless Saturday afternoons watching crimson generals Jack Thompson, Drew Bledsoe, Ryan Leaf, Jason Gesser and a great many more.

AND THAT'S WHAT will gnaw at some Cougar fans, the unanswered questions of what Swogger might have done this year and next. Even with the primary culprit of the 2005 season's demise -- the defense -- would Swogger still have rallied the troops to victory given the five defeats by four points or less? Would WSU under Swogger's stewardship now be making travel plans to warmer climates rather than staying home for the second straight year? They are questions that will never be answered, and 2006 beckons.

Alex Brink threw for 2,891 yards this season, No. 7 all time at WSU, passing marks set by Ryan Leaf, (2,811 in 1996), Jack Thompson (2,762 in 1976) and Drew Bledsoe (2,741 in 1991)

THERE'S MUCH TO like about Alex Brink, and anyone who insists otherwise has their eyes wide shut. There's also much to work on, namely not forcing the ball into blanket coverage, read progression and more. And the tight end was all but abandoned this year until the penultimate game, when a losing season was already in the books.

The execution needs work, but the preparation and recognition are there, and the foundation has been laid. Now it remains to be seen in 2006 if he can build the skyscraper on top of it.

Some of Brink's throws this season were golden. He smartly audibled a number of times, and his command of the Cougar offense was vastly improved. The frequent fumbles of 2004 became a thing of the past -- the spin move of 2004 put into storage where it belonged. There is reason to believe Brink's scrambling ability will win games for the Cougars in the future.

And Brink's arm was stronger this year. While his crimson days remaining now become less than the days that have passed, there's still time to hone the junior-to-be's technique -- much of his arm strength still comes primarily from just the arm. He'll never wing it like Swogger, few can, but arm strength also doesn't necessarily equate to wins, as the history books of college football will attest.

Alex Brink took off running this year, gaining 244 yards before sacks are factored in. And his mobility will help the Cougs win games in 2006.

AND LOST IN THE growing cacophony of voices calling for a quarterback change this season, and despite the Cougar defense being the bigger liability, was this: If Brink had Swogger's cannon, a great many of his critics would, if not overlook, at least extenuate the times he threw behind the receiver or forced it into double coverage.

Everyone loves a strong armed quarterback.

It's just a shame the one who's leaving town is also such a fine individual, and that none of us will ever know what might have been. It's hard not to think the world of Swogger, both as a football player and as a person. But it's also worth noting that Josh Swogger is dead on when he says what remains at WSU, is also much to look forward to..

As for Swogger, he's looking ahead, too, while still appreciating the relationships forged at Washington State. Among the items on his schedule for today, working out and throwing the football around with Thompson and Gesser.

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