NFL Cougs make tracks from Mexico to Europe

IF YOU'RE DOWN MEXICO way and happen to turn on the television, pay attention to the Gatorade commercials. There's a new one out, running only south of the border, that stars former Cougar linebacker James Darling and his fellow Arizona Cardinals teammates Josh McCown and Rolando Cantu.

The national commercial targets the Hispanic community and focuses on Cantu, the first-ever athlete from Mexico's college system to play in the NFL, reports Darling and McCown play prominent roles, while a dozen other Cardinals serve as extras.

ANOTHER ONE-TIME COUGAR linebacker, Raonall Smith, recently signed a one-year, $750,000 free agent deal with the Rams, who are now coached by former Idaho quarterback Scott Linehan.

Smith and Linehan are very familiar with each other from their time together with the Vikings, where Linehan was offensive coordinator.

"He always seemed to make plays -- get a ball out, recover a fumble, make a key tackle on a kickoff. He's one of those guys that has a knack," Linehan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last month when asked about Smith.

After battling injuries his first three seasons in the NFL, Smith played in all 16 games for the Vikings last year – and made a huge mark on special teams, where he posted 21 tackles and recovered two fumbles. He'll compete for a starting slot with the Rams at strongside linebacker.

The 6-2, 241-pound Smith, by the way, is the answer to an interesting trivia question: Who was the first grayshirt player in Pac-10 history?

THE SPORTING NEWS recently noted that the Colts were quite pleased with starting cornerback Jason David's second-season development in 2005. Despite concerns about his size (5-8) coming out of WSU in 2003, it appears the scrappy kid from Covina, Calif., is going to be an NFL fixture for years to come.

Another former Cougar corner, Karl Paymah is the leading contender to be the Broncos' dime back in 2006, reports TSN. Says beat writer Lee Rasizer of The Rocky Mountain News, "His technique and confidence improved as the season progressed, and he has impressed the staff with his work ethic."

ON THE MONEY FRONT, more good news for Jim Sterk as he looks for pockets to tap for the Martin Stadium upgrade. Tennessee Titan DT Rien Long will be cashing bigger checks in '06. The old Cougars and 2003 Outland Trophy winner will see his base salary jump from $460,000 to $712,000 in 2006 due to an escalator clause in his contract.

In addition, former Washington State All-American Lamont Thompson recently got a cash windfall from the Titans, courtesy of the NFL's performance-based pay program, which supplements the salaries of players whose playing time in a given season is disproportionate to their compensation. Thompson, a starting safety, was awarded an additional $104,912 on top of his regular pay.

TAI TUPAI, THE BIG defensive tackle who teamed with Jeremy Williams to help form the Cougars' Iron Curtain of 2003, is testament to the power of perseverance. A year ago he was playing for the Everett Hawks of Arena Football 2. Now he's the property of the Buffalo Bills and assigned to NFL Europe.

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