Cougars, linebackers and bears, oh my

TAKE COVER in Berkeley, Cal. Best beware, Bruins. Of the more colorful, standout players of crimson vintage, many have been 'backers. Will Derting's hobbies included welding, not XBox. No gameday hip hop for Steve Gleason, he'd plug in the Braveheart soundtrack for hours & prelive the gridiron carnage in his head. Incoming LB Andy Mattingly? Well he dreams of fending off bear attacks. With an axe.

We'll get to the Mattingly subconscious in a bit. First, a closer look at the linebacker position, one coach Bill Doba has concerns as to depth, as fall camp gets underway today.

The trepidation doesn't stem from the starting unit. Senior outside 'backers Scott Davis and Steve Dildine, and true sophomore MLB Greg Trent all were among WSU's Top 5 in tackles last year, racking up a combined 203 stops. Trent was Washington State's second leading tackler despite starting only seven games. It's after the trio that Doba eyes with the wariness of a former ol' linebackers coach.

True sophomore Jason Stripling, a No. 2 OLB expected to be a significant contributor, is likely out until mid-September, rehabbing his surgically repaired shoulder. Stripling is also key for LBs coach Leon Burtnett in that while his natural position is outside, in a pinch he can also move to the middle.

Bayou Bomber Cory Evans is a burgeoning talent, playing in all 11 games last season but he, too, will be a true sophomore. After Evans, senior linebackers Chris Baltzer and Brian Hall, and redshirt sophomore Alex Hamill, are all gamers but it also must be noted that in 2005, three true freshman -- Trent, Stripling and Evans -- were the No. 2s across the depth chart.

INTO THE CORPS comes Spokane's Mattingly. Like any incoming rookie, there will be a learning curve. There will be mistakes. Not that many months ago, Mattingly was going to his high school prom and playing safety, tight end and linebacker in the Greater Spokane League, and this is the Pac-10. Mattingly's also the first one to declare, several times in fact, how much he has to learn and how much he looks forward to studying under the Cougar veterans.

Still, Mattingly shows all the telltale signs of being one of those guys -- a crimson mauler who'll show glimmers of that brilliance now, not down the road. Because unless something crazy happens betweens now and Sept. 2, he will not be on the sidelines. Mattingly is not being brought into WSU to redshirt.

He's being brought in to be a missile on special teams. And while linebacker is not a position ordinarily lending itself to true freshman, look for Mattingly to get some turns in the box this year, too.

AFTER AN INTENSIVE offseason, the uber-athletic Mattingly (6-foot-4) now weighs a chiseled 235 pounds. And as he's added muscle this spring and summer, his speed has actually increased. He'll almost certainly come into fall camp as an outside linebacker, likely on the strongside.

"I've put on a lot of weight, but I'm actually way faster than I ever have been. I don't know, I just did that workout book Washington State gave me," ho-hummed Mattingly.

In addition to his gridiron and hardcourt exploits for Mead High last year, Mattingly used some of that newly increased speed to tear up the baseball diamond this summer, leading the GSL in virtually every single category save for pitching. He had more triples (8) as the next best player had doubles. He stole 20 bases, while batting a robust .615.

He shined so brightly, in fact, he started getting phone calls from the LA Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Arizona Diamondbacks prior to June's MLB baseball draft. Mattingly told them thanks, but he wasn't interested.

"They were just wanting to know how serious I was," said Mattingly. "And I wanted to play football."

MATTINGLY WILL, however, test the dual-sport waters at Washington State, possibly playing both sports for the Cougars. Gleason was a speedy baseball player for the Cougs, ranking third on the all-time WSU list in triples (12). In addition to speed, Mattingly shares many of the same traits off the field with the six year NFL Pro.

Mattingly and Gleason crossed paths this summer, working out at the same Spokane locale. The Saints' Gleason came away more than a little impressed with what he saw of Mattingly -- size, build, speed. But he said what struck him most was Mattingly's character, attitude and work ethic. Mattingly is the kind of guy teammates naturally gravitated to at Mead -- funny, modest and unassuming off the field, on the field he'll decaffeinate an opponent coming over the middle.

Mattingly also definitely has that linebacker mentality. Even when he's dreaming.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Mattingly had a dream he was fly fishing with Cougars defensive coordinator Robb Akey on the head waters of the Snake River.

Into the dream's tranquil setting, a huge bear charged out of nowhere, heading straight for Akey. Mattingly made a beeline for the bruin and killed it with an axe. Don't mess with my coach, Winnie.

"I'm not even joking," laughed Mattingly.

Wide awake Thursday, the day before he reported for WSU's camp, Mattingly was on pins and needles in anticipation of what the future holds at Washington State. Still, he could be forgiven if perhaps later he might have done a little daydreaming about what's to come over the next several months for he and the Cougars.

"I can't wait," said Mattingly. "I've been waiting for this my whole life. I'm on a mission."

Andy Mattingly profile

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