From Boss Hog to head-crackin' Bracken

PULLMAN -- Tyron Brackenridge could only watch as his team, his defense, was torched by Pac-10 opponents. He could only watch as enemy QBs and receivers racked up career nights and 40-point games. Ineligible to play in 2005 for academic reasons, the fact he was one of the best at his position – and showed it in practice -- meant nothing. Now, with 2006 spring workouts less than two months away, the senior from Claremont, Calif., is ready to assume his place in the starting lineup.

It's a spot he thought for sure he'd be holding down in 2005 until classroom hurdles sent him on a detour.

"It was a learning experience, looking at the season from the outside in," Brackenridge said of '05, which he spent as a standout on the scout team. "It made me a stronger person and more hungry.

"I worked my tail off over there on the scout team," Brackenridge continued. "I never held my head down. I always kept my head high with a smile on my face, encouraging other players. I never looked at it as a negative situation."

In 2005, the Cougars' historically vaunted defense took a beating, especially through the air. In eight conference games, WSU allowed an average of 318 net passing yards per contest, and surrendered 23 touchdown passes while intercepting only eight balls. Six of those scores covered 40 yards or more.

While porous aerial defense is not exclusively a fault of the secondary, it was clear the Cougars needed help in the secondary. With three of 2004's four starters gone (two of them to the NFL), the DB corps was at once rebuilding and learning on the fly. They could have used Brackenridge, a 6-foot, 180-pound lockdown cover corner with top-flight speed, toughness, and the kind of on-field cockiness that great corners are made of.

Even his nickname sounds cocky, although its origins are wholly innocent. Tyron (pronounced Tie-Rawn) often goes by the moniker "Bossy," given to him by his grandmother.

"You know that TV show Dukes of Hazzard? When I was a baby I was real fat, and I had on a white suit, so my grandmother called me Boss Hog. As I got older she started calling me Bossy, and the name just stuck," Brackenridge said.

BRACKENRIDGE GRADUATED FROM Upland High in Claremont, Calif., in 2002 as a sought-after corner who also played running back and receiver. His SAT scores scared some schools away, though, so he decided to go to junior college. After two standout years at nearby Chaffey, Brackenridge attracted interest from almost 20 Division I programs, ranging from USC to Iowa State.

He says he chose WSU for the family atmosphere, and because defensive coordinator Robb Akey impressed him more than any other recruiter. Brackenridge also wanted to be closer to his older brother, Jaquwan, who at the time played for the Billings (Mont.) Outlaws of the National Indoor Football League. Jaquwan played for the NIFL's Everett (Wash.) Hawks last season, and recently re-signed with Billings for ‘06.

"It came down to Washington and Washington State. I wanted to be in the Northwest," Brackenridge said. "I'm a city boy, so a lot of people thought I'd choose Washington, but I wanted something new."

Brackenridge entered the program as a junior in ‘04. Playing behind starters Alex Teems and Karl Paymah, he didn't see a lot of action at corner. He was, however, WSU's best kickoff return man. His 22 yards-per-return average was good enough for sixth in the Pac-10.

AS THE '05 SEASON APPROACHED, with Paymah off to the Denver Broncos and a starting position open next to Teems, Brackenridge expected big things for himself.

"There was no doubt in my mind I was gonna be a starter for this past season," Brackenridge said. "There were some good guys I'd have to compete with -- we had a good group of guys -- but with the mentality I have, I felt I was gonna be the starter."

Just as spring ball concluded, the social sciences major learned he wouldn't even have a chance to compete for a starting spot. He was deemed academically ineligible, and would have to sit out the entire season. Brackenridge was allowed to practice and was considered a redshirt, but he wasn't allowed on the sidelines for games.

He sat in the stands at home games and followed road games on the TV or radio. "In a way it was difficult for me, but it opened my eyes, to see things in the broader picture," Brackenridge said.

With his grades now in order, life figures to be changing quickly. In an interview with Cougfan.com late in the season, defensive backs coach Ken Greene all but anointed Brackenridge a starter for 2006.

Brackenridge also sees himself sliding in to replace departed seniors Teems and Omowale Dada. He's set some personal goals -- at least seven interceptions and 30 tackles – but more than anything he's grateful he can stop watching and start playing.

"I say those are my goals, but it's all gonna fall into place if I just take it play-by-play and make plays," he said. "That's what it's about. Go out and have fun and make plays."

NOTABLE NOTES:

* In addition to Brackenridge, the Cougars return senior Don Turner, junior Lorenzo Bursey and sophomore Ian Bell at cornerback, though there is a chance Bursey could move to slotback if Michael Bumpus' academic appeal goes south. In addition, WSU's new recruiting class is expected to include incoming CB talent.

* WSU will begin spring workouts on March 21 and conclude them with the annual spring game on April 15. Two members of the new recruiting class –- JC transfers Finas Rabb (WR) and Jason Price (TE) -- will be participating. Both enrolled at WSU this month. Two familiar faces will not be there -– fifth-year seniors-to-be Josh Swogger and Spencer Hollison. In search of more playing time, each is headed to a Division I-AA school. Swogger has transferred to Montana and Hollison, a backup offensive lineman from Santa Margarita, Calif., is finalizing his plans.

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