Gut-check time, says Cougar Legend

<b>RUEBEN MAYES</b>, no stranger to dealing with pressure-packed situations, makes no bones about it. The former All-American, Heisman Trophy contender and NFL All-Pro says "it's gut-check time" for the Cougar football team.

After a summer of unprecedented national hype, the Cougars came crashing down to earth last Saturday in the heat and humidity of Columbus. Now a rash of injuries, bickering and blaming threatens to  turna season of destiny into a season to forget. Sixteen key players are not expected to play this weekend against Montana State due to aches, attitudes or poor judgment.

The Cougars need to use the game against the undermanned Bobcats as a chance to refocus and get back on the right path, Mayes told this week.

And he has no doubts that they'll do just that. "When I look at this team, I see a lot of poised, good people who are embracing the high expectations put on by other people and set by themselves," says the director of the Cougar Athletic Foundation.

"This team has character," he adds. Moreover, fans need to remember that as heralded as the squad has been coming into the season, the fact as that "you're dealing with kids in their late teens and early 20s trying to find their way both in the football world and in life."

"These young men are dealing with expectations and pressure that not every Cougar football team has faced, but with that comes the opportunity to grow, succeed and be a part of something larger than just one person," says Mayes. "A lot of that is where the leadership from the coaches comes in to play.

Because of all the hype, the stakes are uniquely high this season, he admits. "This team's character and focus can make an impact for years to come with the future recruitment of student athletes," he says.

He sees a trend in which prospective student-athletes are more-than-ever attracted to Pullman's magical nectars --- a truly special community, a quality education and dedicated coaching staff. Coupled with the back-to-back bowl games that the 2002 Cougars expect to bring to fruition, the combination could truly set the crimson football ship sailing.

And it all starts this Saturday against Montana State, says Mayes, noting that one-game-at-a-time is the only way to approach any season, let alone one that could have far-reaching implications for the long-term direction of the program.

"There is so much season between Montana State and Washington (the Cougars actually conclude the regular season this year Dec. 7 at UCLA), you can't help but think about the possibilities. With that said, this is a team that will take one contest at a time, and not get caught looking down the road. With the schedule that Washington State has, and with the caliber of play that the Pac-10 as a whole has shown so far, no team has the luxury of overlooking opponents on their schedule.

"I think that Washington State is part of a conference that is exhilarating. Just look at the number of Top 25 teams compared to the other power conferences."

Mayes' professional goal is to extend that same type of parity to fundraising, where Washington State ranks a distant last place in the Pac-10 in alumni support for athletics.

In just two years on the job, he's made a big splash. This past year he helped raise a record $2.2 million for Cougar athletics and so far this year the numbers are running nearly 20 percent ahead of last year.

Mayes' aim is to double the number of alums who donate to athletics. Of the 83,000 graduates who live in the state of Washington, only about five percent --- about 4,000 hearty souls --- belong to the Cougar Athletic Foundation. The booster clubs at Washington and Oregon are twice that and Oregon State's is 50 percent larger.

Translate that into dollars and the disparity becomes more skewed. The Huskies are getting some $7 million each year from their boosters, the Ducks close to $6 million and the Beavers a fast-growing $3.2 million. At WSU, Mayes and his boss, Associate Athletic Director Brady Crook, are working hard trying to breach the $2.5 million mark. They are also scrambling --- unlike their richer brethren at Washington, Oregon and Oregon State --- to raise the final $4 million needed to put a real roof over the indoor practice facility.

"Last year was a record fundraising year for the foundation," Mayes says enthusisatically. "There is a long, strong history of athletics here, and football is the catalyst. We are poised to be even stronger this year."

And a healthy dose of gut-checking by the Cougar football team will go a long way in helping blaze the way.


During his Cougar playing days, Mayes became WSU's single-season and career rushing leader, piling up 1,632 yards his junior year en-route to 3,519 career hashes.

He set two NCAA record in 1984, rushing for a then-single-game record 357 yards at Oregon. That showing, coupled with 216 yards the week before at Stanford, broke the consecutive-game mark for most yards. That Stanford game also found Mayes tying a school single-game record with five TDs in a wild 49-42 comeback victory for the Cougars.

Mayes was a third-round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints following the 1985 season and proceeded to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 1986 and was named NFL rookie of the year. He was selected for the Pro Bowl after the 1986 and '87 seasons.

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