The pleasant surprise of '06? Choice is clear

PULLMAN – The request was succinct: Name a relatively unknown Cougar player who will surprise people this season. Head coach Bill Doba, a long-time aficionado of defense, didn't hesitate to name a 284-pound load from the offensive side of the ball.

"Dan Rowlands," Doba proclaimed in a recent interview. The 6-foot-5 third-year sophomore from Seal Beach, Calif., is someone who will impress the faithful in 2006, he said.

WSU tight ends coach Greg Peterson echoed Doba's sentiment, as did defensive line coach Mike Walker and sports information assistant director Bill Stevens. Everyone, it seems, pegs Rowlands -– who can play center or guard -- as the pleasant surprise-in-waiting.

Everyone, that is, except offensive line coach George Yarno.

"I wouldn't call him a surprise," Yarno said. "But I've been working with him for two years. He's an extremely competitive, smart, tough, hard-working kid. He got slowed down a little bit last year because he had to have his (gall bladder) removed … so he missed part of camp. But he came back way before the training staff thought he would."

In March, during spring workouts, Rowlands also lost time to a shoulder injury. Now healthy, he plans to make his mark when fall camp opens August 6.

Rowlands' potential is punctuated by his size, his frame and his ability to fight through pain, Yarno said.

"I think he's got a chance to be a three-year starter," said Yarno, a 1979 WSU alum and long-time NFL veteran . "If not a three-year starter, at least a two-year starter. Who knows what he could be by the end of his senior year. He could be an All-Pac-10-type kid if he continues to work like he has."

THE COUGARS ARE SET at three of the five positions on the offensive line, with returning starters Bobby Byrd (left tackle), Charles Harris (right tackle) and Sean O'Connor (left guard).

Rowlands is fighting for a starting spot at center or right guard.

"(Andy Roof) had a really good spring at right guard and has the upper hand at playing there," Yarno said recently. "The center position is still up for grabs and I think Rowlands will compete at that position. I also think he'll compete at both guard positions. He may end up being our sixth guy like in basketball that comes off the bench and plays quite a bit." Rowlands' competition at center is second-year freshman Kenny Alfred and fifth-year senior Josh Duin. Duin came out of spring ball as front runner, but injuries to Rowlands (shoulder) and Alfred (broken hand) made the competition a bit one-sided.

ROWLANDS SAID HE PICKED Washington State over Oregon State and other suitors because of Doba and Yarno, whom he credits for utilizing his potential.

"If I had known what I know now in high school it would have been a huge difference," he said.

This from the top offensive lineman on a Los Alamitos High team that climbed to No. 5 in one USA Today national ranking.

"Having played in the NFL for (13) years, (Yarno) has an attitude about the game that I've never seen in anyone before," said Rowlands, who played behind Norvell Homes last season. "Not only is it a mental toughness, but it's an intelligence -- knowing what's going to happen before the play's even snapped. With coach Yarno there are different schemes and different plans for every play."

The Cougar offensive line is also unique in that each of the players fighting for the two starting positions has a brother-like bond, Rowlands said.

"I don't know if there's really any other team in the nation that has any sort of relationship like we do," he said. "My host in coming here was Bobby Byrd, who's our starting left tackle, who's one of my best friends. The left guard is Sean O'Connor, one of my really good friends, too. I'm playing center and Josh Duin and Kenny Alfred are great guys and we hang out all the time. Andy Roof has been my best friend since I got here."

Their camaraderie, he says, will help produce wins – not just this season, which opens Sept. 2 at Auburn – but "for the next for the next few years," he said.

Cougfan Top Stories