LB Dildine coming into his own

THE FIRST SIGNS became apparent around the middle of last season. Outside linebacker Steve Dildine was no longer having to think about what he was doing. He was simply reading, reacting and getting it done. And while it may have escaped notice by the average observer during spring workouts last month, Dildine was running down just about anything that moved. Bill Doba took note.

Dildine didn't just have a good spring, he had an outstanding spring.

"He's really starting to come into his own," said Doba. "I think he'll be a good one this season."

All good ones get there through drive. And to say Dildine is competitive is a massive understatement.

BACK IN THE summer of 2004 and inspired by a big prizefight coming up, Dildine and fellow linebacker Scott Davis began talking about which one of them was the better boxer. A short time later the plan was hatched.

They'd go to train for a week, have the ceremonial weigh-in, and then Iron Steve and Sugar Scott would put on the gloves and go at it. Five one-minute rounds with one minute rest and you can't be saved by the bell.

The coaches put a stop to that one in a hurry.

DOBA AND COACH Leon Burtnett love linebackers who can flat out run. And there's more to running on the gridiron than just straight ahead speed. Change of direction and reaction time are critical. The difference between sealing the edge and getting there too late can be measured by the tines of a comb.

Linebacker will always be one of the more difficult positions to assimilate on defense. Along with split second reads and coverage skills, any mistakes are often magnified because the position plays out in space. The task is made that much more difficult coming into college with one year of high school ball under your belt -- one spent playing another position.

DILDINE HAD FOCUSED solely on motocross since the eighth grade but after picking up the pigskin again his senior year, he ran wild in the SPSL to the tune of 2,265 yards with 45 all-purpose touchdowns. Only the 27th player to eclipse the 2,000 yard mark, high school stardom doesn't mean that's the optimal position in college and Washington State made him a linebacker.

After a redshirt season, Dildine spent his freshman season in 2003 as a special teams terror. He also got his first college start against ASU when Scott Davis and Al Genatone were injured.

He set up shop in the weight room that offseason and by the time 2004 rolled around, his opening day weight was more than 15 pounds heavier than the the year before. But the strength gains were somewhat negated with the former AP All-State first teamer still learning the position.

Named the opening day starter in '04, Dildine played solid if unspectacular football through the first four games. Pat Bennett was the starter from there on out although in reality, Dildine and Bennett split the time over the last seven games nearly right down the middle.

DILDINE STARTED EVERY game in 2005 and was quietly third on the team in tackles with 68. But it was towards the tail end of the season where he began to make his mark. Indeed, Dildine tallied 30 sticks over the final four games and tallied a number of large plays in the season ending victory over Washington in the Apple Cup.

If the Cougs are to make it three in a row over the UW this season, if they are to get back to playing staunch Cougar defense, one key will be just how far Dildine has come into his own.

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