18 with Akey: A fascinating day in the life

SIX HOURS IN A torrential downpour, chasing a little white ball through 6,600 yards of grass, can tell you a lot about a football coach. When one member of our foursome fired a shot that went astray, Robb Akey did what comes naturally. "Get back there and fire another one," he said with infectious confidence. "Hit that thing straighter then you ever have."

It worked.

Similarly, on the very last hole, hoping against hope my driver would come alive before we headed over to eat prime rib with Jack Thompson, Akey leaned toward me. "See the big purple W on that ball?" he asked, as I looked at the ironic labeling on my Titleist. "I don't want to see it on there when we get to the middle of the fairway."

So I did what I hadn't done all day: hit the dimples right off the offending orb.

Is there any wonder kids like playing for this guy?

That's how it was last Thursday in Kent at the Meridian Valley Country Club, where the King County Cougar Club put on its annual golf tournament –- with a co-sponsoring assist from Cougfan.com.

Through the good graces of CF.C message board pundit LakeWaCoug, a tireless WSU booster who happened to be one of the event's organizers, we were paired up with Akey, the Washington State defensive coordinator known for his bear hugs and leaping ability.

Prematurely gray, but with a mustache that isn't, and wearing a pair of orange-tinted sunglasses, you mix Akey's 6-foot-6 frame with that Wolfman Jack voice of his and you pretty much have yourself a playing partner straight out of central casting. Force a stogie into his hands and now you're talking a North Dallas Forty or Longest Yard kind of cool.

He attracts boosters the way a picnic does bees.

From the moment he stepped off the Grayline that brought the coaching staff from the airport to the golf course, it was one question after another.

"Will Michael Willis be a starter this year?"

Eric Frampton and Husain Abdullah return as the starting safeties, but the Cougs will find ways to get Willis on the field a lot, Akey says.

"What's the outlook at cornerback?"

Tyron Brackenridge was looking good in the spring until a hamstring slowed him down, but he has the speed and athleticism to perform. Fifth-year senior Don Turner needs to step up and all the incoming guys – Markus Dawes, Brian Williams, Kerry Maddox and B.T. Walker, too, if all his documentation gets lined up – will be given big-time opportunities to play.

How good can Mkristo Bruce be?

In a word, great. (In fact, some NFL observers think he could be a first-round draft choice.)

Can Andy Mattingly contribute right away?

The incoming freshman from Spokane is a tremendous talent -– a two-way standout Akey is glad to have coming in on the defensive side of ball. As for playing time, more will be known as August unfolds.

Such entreaties fly at him so fast it makes my head spin. Akey tackles each one head on, eyes focused on the person asking.

Over the course of the day he must have answered the same questions a hundred times. No matter. He fielded each like it was the first time.

AKEY ALSO SHOWED AN uncanny ability to guesstimate distances. At the 10th hole, where you can pay a pro to hit a tee shot for your foursome, we found the ball about 100 yards away from the pin -- but 50 yards less than where last year's pro put it in this same tourney, Akey announced. "I think we need to go get our donation back," he quipped.

Akey was precise all day. On the hole where you could win a brand new Denali, courtesy of old Cougar center Ron Claudon and his troops at Valley Pontiac Buick GMC in Auburn, one of our guys hit a gorgeous tee shot. Six feet, four inches to the cup, Akey proclaimed. The actual distance? Six feet, five inches! I can only imagine when grading a player on the precision of his footwork how it would be darn near impossible to argue with an Akey assessment.

All over the course, Akey stopped and chatted with people. Between him and offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller, who was playing right behind us, the discussion never stopped.

And these guys know how to put on show.

Levy at one point turns toward our group as we're waiting to tee off. He's holding a pitching wedge and proceeds to line up directly at Akey. He then adjusts his stance and from about 35 yards out proceeds to chip the ball right in to Akey's hand. Akey didn't even move a foot to make the grab. Roars of laughter rang out.

AKEY IS AN OUTSTANDING golfer with a great short game, but it's the conversation that sets him apart. As a kid growing up in Colorado, he loved nothing more than to hang out with his dad, a science teacher. That special connection makes it easy to understand Akey's love of helping young people succeed.

One of my favorite lines from him came on the approach shot following a drive that set us up nicely. "Now's the time to sure it up and make it happen," he said. His tone was encouraging, but in a way that made you truly believe in your ability to convert.

All day long you could see the passion Akey has for his job at Washington State. I now know clearly why a kid from Texas would journey all the way to Pullman to play for him. He's a first class guy who loves coaching and believes in the power of the human spirit.


Costa Capellas, one of the tournament's organizers, is about as big a Cougar fan as you'll find – and also one heck of a diplomat. He's getting married this summer, to a fellow Coug, and the reception will be at Seattle's legendary Fairmont Olympic Hotel. Now get his: Costa got the Olympic to agree to fly a Cougar flag out front on the wedding day. Mind you, this changing of flags is something usually reserved for royalty or presidents from other countries.

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