Cougs strike walk-on gold

A CHALLENGING ROAD may beckon for those who would go from walk-on to Saturday glory but consider this -- over 20 percent of the Cougar starters on the '97 Rose Bowl team walked on at WSU. This year's crimson assemblage of invited walk-ons is a most athletic and highly decorated group. Several are from Washington. One is from Texas. Another carries a last name well known to the Cougar Nation.

Chisomaga Acholonu, a 6-2, 205-pound junior, is the brother of Dilibe D.D. Acholonu, the No. 2 all-time sacks leader at Washington State (32.5, 2000-03) who now starts for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes.

Chisomaga, a Fall 2005 honor roll student at Washington State, attended Inglemoor High. He will play the same position for the Cougs that his brother did, defensive end.


Many programs can boast walk-on kickers and punters who have earned scholarships and gone on to standout college careers. Few, however, ever started five in the Rose Bowl.

The 1998 WSU Rose Bowl team featured Cougar starters Shawn Tims, Cory Withrow , Todd Nelson, Lee Harrison and Rian Lindell. They all began their careers out on the Palouse by walking on.

During that fateful season, Nelson was the third leading tackler for the Cougs. Tims still holds the WSU record for punt return yards in a game and season. Lindell was WSU's leading scorer. Harrison and Withrow made up two-thirds of an offensive line that allowed Ryan Leaf to set all time Pac-10 season marks for total offense, passing yardage and more. Withrow has gone on to play seven years in the NFL, while Lindell has played six seasons for the Seahawks and Bills.

The crimson walk-on success stories don't end there.

LB Mawuli Davis, LB Grady Emmerson, WR Scott Lunde, DT Tomasi Kongaika and C Mike Shelford are among those who became difference makers at Washington State on Saturday afternoons -- earning scholarships and starting positions.

The walk-ons -- and redshirts -- also have a large impact, albeit anonymously, on the team's success. Just don't talk about it publicly.

Some ill-timed and unfortunate remarks about the Huskies' scout team led in part to Washington firing coach Jim Lambright. While Lambright went too far, publicly naming the scout team as a reason for the '98 Hula Bowl loss, college coaches the country over will tell you the scout team is absolutely critical to a team's achievement.

During a week's preparation, the scout team takes on the role of the opponent. First teamers are challenged not only physically, but mentally. The more talented -- and more passionate -- the scout team, the better the "look" for the starters headed into Saturday. It is a look that consists of correct formations, patterns, coverages, proper defensive alignment -- and the same holds true for special teams.

WSU head man Bill Doba has said on a number of occasions that Leaf was the best he'd ever seen running the scout team. It was during Leaf's redshirt season in 1994. It was the year of the Palouse Posse, mentored by then-defensive coordinator Doba.

As a freshman, Leaf was more than just competitive, he was completely driven. He played as if his life depended on beating the No. 1 defense, refusing to ever give up on any single play. So much so, a couple of then Cougar coaches actually got angry with Leaf at times -- he did such a fine job the starters on defense weren't, in the coach's eyes, having enough success during a certain drill or practice.

Those sentiments evaporated on Saturdays for the most part. The Cougars were last in the league in total offense in '94 but WSU needed few points with the defense holding opponents to 10 points or less in eight of the 12 games.

With their "Jaws" defense, WSU led the league in most defensive categories and also was the second-best in the nation, allowing opponents only 229 yards per game in the regular season.

The Palouse Posse was made up of great, great defensive players. And they were made better by going against a scout team which consisted of walk-ons and redshirts like Leaf.

The scout team members didn't see their names in a box score in 1994. No Sunday articles trumpeted their contributions. But their impact was most decidedly felt throughout the season -- a Top 25 finish that was capped with a 23-6 Apple Cup win and victory over Baylor in the Alamo Bowl.

Some present day walk-ons on for the Cougs, through hard work and talent, will earn scholarships one day. Some will become key players at Washington State -- and even starters -- over the course of their crimson careers.

All of them will help the program win.
Jason Butler (6-2, 205) eschewed a scholarship offer at Eastern to walk-on at Washington State where he'll play safety for the Cougs. He did it all for EC, with 72 tackles and five interceptions on defense; 63 Receptions for 1003 Yards and 14 touchdowns; and 886 kickoff return yards and 3 TDs, 18 punt returns for 219 yards and 2 TDs.

His senior year, Butler was a first team all-league safety and was named to the Seattle Times Star Times All Area Team, Seattle P-I All Area Team and the King County Journal Eastside All-Star squad. He also received first team all-state honors on offense. Taylor Mays was the more widely recognized prospect out of the Metro League but Mays shared league Offensive Co-MVP honors with Butler in '05.

Garrett Congdon (6-3.5, 230) last season at Sacramento City College threw for 1,780 yards and 13 TDs in seven games.

A full qualifier out of Sacramento's Sheldon High, the strong armed QB saw his prep recruitment blunted by a struggling program and wing-T offense, drawing only casual recruiting interest from smaller programs such as Idaho State and San Diego prior to hitting his stride in junior college. He has 4-to-play-3 at Washington State.

OL Brian Danaher is a versatile 6-3, 240-pound offensive and defensive lineman who captured All-Northeast A League honors for Colfax in 2005. He'll line up with the hosses on offense at Washington State.

Danaher also captained the Colfax basketball team for two seasons, averaging 14 points and eight rebounds a game his senior season and earned the league's co-Most Valuable Player honor.

Speaking of versatile, Zach Evans was listed on the East-West all star roster as a running back, defensive back and kicker.

Out of Central Valley of Spokane, Evans captured first team All-GSL honors as a place-kicker his senior year. He rushed for 818 yards on 134 carries during the regular season and his eight touchdowns, along with going 4-5 in FG attempts with 20 PATs, helped him finish fourth in the GSL in scoring.

Longview WR Luke Fowler (6-2, 185) was named all-state by the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune and Associated Press -- the AP also selected him all-state as a junior. Fowler caught 73 passes as a senior for 1,310 yards and a school-record 11 TDs, breaking the TD mark set by his father Kyle in 1980.

Fowler's size and speed (4.68) probably meant he wasn't going to be highly recruited but he displayed an uncanny knack for making the impossible catch nearly routine at R.A. Long. A 4.0 student in the classroom, Fowler's football acumen also earned him straight A's from area coaches.

Aaron Gehring will join Washington State at tight end, following the 6-foot-5 playmaker's star turn at quarterback and defensive back at Castle Rock High.

As a senior, Gehring logged 64 tackles (35 solo) and four interceptions on defense. Running the show from behind center, he completed 78 of 147 passes for 1,103 yards with 17 passing TDs plus a pair of rushing touchdowns and 2-point conversions.

DL Ben Huntley (6-2, 230), a two-time first team All-Narrows League selection, was the Bay Division's defensive MVP in 2005.

Called by area scribes the heart and soul of one of the state's more dominant high school defenses in 2005, Huntley simply "dominated from his position" according to The Olympian, racking up 81 tackles from the interior, logging two sacks, 12 tackles for losses and one fumble recovery.

Riley McKillop, a 6-1, 185-pound linebacker, was one of the speed merchants off the edge in the 5-2 defense of Tacoma's Bellarmine Prep.

In nine games, he racked up 91 tackles (62 solo) with a sack and two fumble recoveries during his senior campaign and was named to the Tacoma Weekly's All-City first team defense for his efforts. As a junior, McKillop logged 90 tackles (60 solo) with five sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries, again in only nine games.

Selected to the Dallas Morning News Area Top 100, Desmond Murff out of Lewisville, Texas., is a tall defensive back checking in at 6-foot-2 and 192 pounds. Selected all-league at both safety and receiver for Class 4A Texas state champion Hebron High, Murff was a three-year standout who turned down a scholarship offer from Wyoming. He will play strong safety for the Cougs.

His senior year, Murff picked off four passes on a 4A defense that was ranked No. 5 in the state. On an offense that had 662 runs vs. 152 pass attempts, Murff pulled in 14 catches for 188 yards and three TDs at receiver.

Chris Prummer (6-3, 260) out of Issaquah's Liberty High was the KingCo 3A league's Defensive MVP.

As a senior, Prummer led the league with 14 1/2 tackles for loss and six sacks. Named to the Star Times 2005 all-area football team, he also set several weightlifting records while at Liberty.

Nathan Thompson (OL, 6-6, 240) out of University High in Spokane was selected All-GSL first team offense and finished sixth in the state meet in the discus with a throw of 151-1. He is an athletic big man, and also a star in the classroom and community.

His junior year, Thompson organized the "Have a Ball This Summer" drive and was awarded the Qwest Leadership Challenge scholarship. Through his efforts, the event distributed more than 1,800 baseballs, bats, rackets and hula hoops to needy children. correspondent J.V. Holland contributed to this report

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