For the newly-appointed swim Head Coach Matt Leach, swimming isn’t just a hobby or a job — it is a lifestyle. Growing up in Oregon, Leach developed a love for competitive swimming at age 4 from watching his older brother and his dad, who was a coach.
“If you really love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Leach said. “I really believe that.”
Leach didn’t just want to doggy paddle like all the other kids. He wanted to swim competitively. So with his dad as the coach and the love of the sport motivating him to be his best, he swam competitively throughout all of his childhood, high school and college.
“Clubs, teams, collegiate — I swam it all, it didn’t matter,” Leach said.
Not having much opportunity to swim at a higher level in Oregon, Leach went to the Indiana University, where he would earn five All-American honors and qualify for both the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials.
After he graduated from college, Leach took his knowledge to coaching. He coached at Louisiana State University for four years and took a job at University of Wyoming for six. Coaching at Wyoming took him to Indiana State for three more years, ultimately leading him to WSU.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be here,” Leach said. “This is an amazing school, and I knew when this opportunity came up it would be once in a lifetime.”
He said he has been moving his family and belongings to Washington from Indiana and it has been quite a change.
Leach also took his swimmers on a team-bonding camp trip to familiarize himself with the group.
Leach explained the camping trip as being traditional: s’mores, sitting around the fire telling stories, hiking. But one thing wasn’t so traditional: canoeing with blindfolded people. The drill had two people rowing the canoe be blindfolded and receive directions from the third member, who sat in the middle.
“Team energy, chemistry and culture are very important,” Leach said. “The best way to establish these things is through communication.”
Leach has been enjoying his time here so far, he said, and couldn’t be more excited for this season.
“There is a lot of talent here,” Leach said. “I would love to be here a long time and hopefully forever.”
Even though Pullman isn’t quite the same as his hometown Portland, Oregon, Leach almost feels like he’s right at home, and that was a huge factor in him taking this job.
“It’s always good to be around family,” Leach said, “and moving back to the Pacific Northwest is another way that I can get to be with them.”
Winning a national championship while going undefeated in NCAA Division I and being a gold medalist in the Olympics is a dream career path for any athlete. However, it was more than just a dream for WSU women’s basketball Head Coach Kamie Ethridge. She lived it.
Ethridge grew up in Texas as the youngest of four siblings with all of her family playing basketball.
“I loved basketball growing up, and I knew that I always wanted to play it,” Ethridge said.
This mindset carried her to a successful career as a basketball player. She had the honor of being a college basketball player at the University of Texas at Austin, where she had one of the most successful careers of any Longhorn.
In Austin, Ethridge led Texas to the 1986 NCAA National Championship where she was named MVP after being a team captain and leading her team to a record of 34-0 that season. This made them the first Division I women’s basketball team to go undefeated.
“I loved my time at Texas,” Ethridge said. “Going to Texas was a dream of mine. That’s where I learned how to compete, how to be a good leader, how to be a great teammate and how to compete and succeed at the highest level.”
A national championship would be the highlight of an athletic career for most. However, Ethridge’s career continued to soar. She was a member of the gold medal-winning USA Olympic women’s basketball team in 1988.
“I tell people all the time it was the greatest individual achievement you could ever have as a basketball player,” Ethridge said. “Just to be on that podium, to watch that flag be lowered and the national anthem played, it’s the highest of highs for an individual, and was the highlight of my basketball career.”
After the Olympics, Ethridge played basketball overseas because at the time the Women’s National Basketball Association had not been established yet. When her playing career finished, she turned to coaching.
She has over 30 years of collegiate coaching experience including stints at Northern Illinois University, Vanderbilt University and Kansas State University where she spent 18 years as an assistant. Ethridge spent the last four seasons at University of Northern Colorado as a head coach for the first time in her career.
“I loved my time at Northern [Colorado], and after four years I felt like I had a good thing going and our program was headed in the right direction,” Ethridge said.
Coming off a season where she was named Big Sky Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year and led the University of Northern Colorado to its first NCAA Tournament appearance, Ethridge has big plans for her new team.
“Wins and losses will take care of themselves if we build a great foundation for this program,” Ethridge said. “I want my players to be competitive and passionate, respecting the game and knowing what it takes to be great. That includes being a great student in the classroom and respecting professors.”
Ethridge looks to lead the Cougs back into Pac-12 competition when they start the regular season Nov. 6 at Beasley Coliseum, marking the beginning of a new era for the team.
From seeing palm trees and traffic every day in Corona, California, to viewing wheat fields and sunsets in Pullman, senior defender Maddy Haro had to make major adjustments when she committed to WSU soccer her sophomore year of high school.
Haro started playing in a league when she was only 5 years old. As she grew up, she continued her passion for the sport as she started playing club soccer at age 7 and furthered her career as she went into high school.
Haro attended Santiago High School where she led her team to success and continued to strengthen her ability on the field. By her senior year of high school, her soccer team won the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Regional Championship for the first time in school history and continued on to win the state tournament.
“It was so rare to win CIF and state in the same year,” Haro said, “So I had a really successful and really fun senior year in high school.”
In high school, Haro played as a forward and scored 20 goals while adding 18 assists to her high school career statistics. With experience from club teams, she started getting recruited early in her high school career and committed to WSU after only her second year of high school.
At WSU, Haro stays busy as she is double majoring in multimedia journalism and strategic communication with emphasis in public relations, as well as putting in the time to be a key player on the soccer team.
As a freshman and sophomore, Haro played various positions including an attacking midfielder and forward to see where she fit best on the field. Sophomore year is when Haro started to move into the backfield as she started playing holding mid and attacking mid, until finally in the spring she played left back, WSU Head Coach Todd Shulenberger said.
“Last year we found her home as an attacking back,” Shulenberger said. “Her strengths were obviously her ability in possession, her ability for set piece opportunities, for free kicks. I mean … she is a goal-scorer. She’s scored numerous goals for us as a defender.”
Since last season, Haro has played a crucial role as a defender on the team. Not only does she serve as a top defender but she also plays a key part in the set piece moments, such as dead balls or corner kicks.
Regarding her role on the team, Haro said her strength is creating opportunities for her teammates.
“I think my part is really just setting them up and assisting and trying to put them in the best situations to score,” Haro said. “I love being on set pieces so every time there is a dead ball or a corner kick, I think that’s kind of my strong suit.”
Shulenberger said despite not being a team captain, Haro still holds a leadership position. Both on the field and in the classroom, Haro is a leader by example and motivates her teammates.
In her final year on the Palouse, Haro has a lot of goals she would like to see the team achieve. After last year’s success reaching the third round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, the team is eager to get back.
“I want to be a national champion and win the Pac-12,” Haro said. “I want to see growth and development and I want to see all of those working pieces move together. I think that has just been so important this season and I think that’s why we have had a lot of success.”
WSU will take on neighboring Eastern Washington University this weekend, in a rematch of a 2016 game where the Cougars lost by three.
Mike Leach said EWU gives the team a chance to grow.
“We have an opportunity to improve as a team and get better and that’s what we need to do,” Leach said, “Eastern is kind of the team we are going to play against that provides the adversity for us to do that.”
Last time the two teams faced off, the Cougars lost to the Eagles by a score of 42-45. There have been a lot of questions asked of players and coaches as to whether or not they have a revenge mindset in taking on the Eagles this week.
During a press conference after practice Tuesday, players didn’t seem bothered by the questions about the upcoming game. Each answer was consistent to their mindset and how they are going to defeat the Eagles. When asked about any bitterness toward EWU and the game two years ago, senior cornerback Darrien Molton didn’t sound worried for this weekend.
“I’m taking this game as another game,” he said. “I think they played hard, they played harder than us. They came out from the gates playing real hard and fast and I think they wanted it more than us in that game, so we’re just trying to come out with that energy.”
The Cougars’ (2-0) matchup with EWU (2-0) two seasons ago was the start of the Eagles’ then-sophomore quarterback Gage Gubrud’s career. Gubrud completed 34 of 40 passes for a total of 474 yards, with five touchdown passes to only one interception.
WSU senior nickel Hunter Dale explained how the loss two years ago affected him and what the team has been doing to prepare for Saturday’s game.
“It was a nasty taste, we never like losing, especially against an in-state school like that,” Dale said. “But that was two years ago, so I’m not going to have that in the back of my head that we lost that game.”
The Eagles have racked up plenty of touchdowns and yards in their two victories. Their first game against Central Washington University, was a 58-13 win and their second-week win was against Northern Arizona University with a final score of 31-26. Already this season the Eagles have accumulated a total of 582 rushing yards and 671 passing yards.
But WSU’s season has also brought high-scoring results. The Cougs have won both of their games, starting with a win against University of Wyoming by a score of 41-19. In their first home game of the season, the Cougs shut out San Jose State University Trojans by a score of 31-0.
The Cougars have already accumulated a total of 938 yards this season, with 739 of those yards made up by passing and the remaining 199 yards on the ground.
Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium and the game will be broadcasted live on Pac-12 Networks.
When Hunter Dale realized playing football at a Division 1 school was a reality, WSU wasn’t first, second, third or even fourth on his list. In fact, Pullman wasn’t even on his radar.
Of the roughly 30 scholarship offers Dale received while still in high school, none of them came from the crimson and gray.
But the senior nickel wouldn’t take back any of the ups and downs that led him here.
“Once I figured out I was coming here, it was perfect,” he said.
Dale’s journey began in his hometown of New Orleans when he was about 6 years old after Dale’s dad, Wyatt Harris, started training him.
Harris, who played wide receiver at Southern University and A&M College, is the owner of Sonic Boom Speed Conditioning & Strength Training Academy. Through his business, Harris has trained a number of athletes who have played in the NFL including Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Landon Collins, Tracy Porter, Mark Ingram and Marques Colston.
Dale got to train alongside all of these athletes and when he was in junior high and high school, he didn’t work out with his teammates. Instead he lined up one-on-one with Colston, who was in the NFL at the time, and mastered his coverage skills against the best.
Harris said players such as Colston and Ingram admired Dale because of his work ethic and dedication to the game. Harris said Dale was also an elite baseball player in high school and recalled one time when he brought Colston and Ingram to one of Dale’s games because they wanted to see him pitch.
Dale said Harris wasn’t easy on him when he was younger which helped shaped the player he is today.
“I’ve always loved it,” Dale said. “[Harris] just always pushed me to my edge and pushed me to my limit.”
Harris said it was all about business when he trained his son and he made sure he had a complete game both physically and mentally.
“I treated him like a stranger when we was training,” he said.
Despite the notoriety of the players Dale was training with, he never was starstruck and instead soaked up as much knowledge as he could.
“Since I’ve been around so many famous people that my dad has trained, I don’t really get up to the hype,” he said.
These athletes gave Dale advice on how to handle pressure, prepared him for the college recruiting process and laid out the steps for him to play at the next level of football and beyond. This experience helped Dale as he began the recruiting process in high school.
Ever since he could remember, Dale’s dream was to attend Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge where his grandfather Peter Dale Sr. played football, so naturally the Tigers were at the top of his list.
Unfortunately, LSU didn’t feel the same way. Dale said the team told him he was too small. While still upset, he immediately began looking for a team that would face LSU at least once a year and that’s when he stumbled across University of Florida.
During his freshman year in high school, then-Florida Head Coach Will Muschamp started recruiting Dale and he received his first offer from a team in the Southeastern Conference.
Despite numerous offers from other schools, Dale committed to the Gators until he had a change of heart right before his senior season in high school. He decided he wanted to go to University of Nebraska.
But at the end of the Cornhuskers’ 2014 season, the team fired Bo Pelini, the head coach at the time, and Dale once again reconsidered his decision.
Dale decided to return to Florida and planned on announcing it on National Signing Day, but a week before he was scheduled to do it the Gators fired Muschamp.
Now the defensive back was scrambling to find a team a week before signing day. He reached out to University of Oregon, but the Ducks told him they were full and could only offer him the opportunity to grayshirt.
A grayshirt is when an athlete attends a college for the first semester as a part-time student and doesn’t receive a scholarship until the start of their second semester. This means the player doesn’t see the field the first season, but still has five years to complete four seasons with the chance to redshirt at some point.
Dale didn’t want to sit out a year, so he looked at the University of Missouri. At that time, the secondary coach for Missouri was Alex Grinch, who served as the WSU defensive coordinator from 2015-17.
The Tigers were interested in Dale but chose a junior college transfer over him. Still searching for a college, Dale’s dad got in contact with Jarrail Jackson, who was the director of player relations and worked in recruiting for WSU at the time.
Jackson told Harris that Grinch was just hired as the new defensive coordinator and eventually Dale received a phone call from Grinch. The conversation lasted over an hour and a half and ended with Dale receiving a scholarship from WSU.
Dale committed to WSU about a month after signing day and was introduced to a whole new environment that took some time getting used to.
“I had to open up and adapt to a new culture, new people and a new way of living,” he said. “It changed me because I had to get used to not seeing my family.”
It took a few years for Dale to break out and find his spot with the Cougars, but last season Grinch moved Dale to nickel where he started all 13 games and thrived.
“I just found my knack,” he said.
Now in his final season at WSU, Dale and the rest of the defense are adjusting to having Tracy Claeys as the defensive coordinator.
Dale admitted losing Grinch was tough, but the group hasn’t lost the Speed D mentality he brought to the program despite it coming from a different voice.
“We still have that ingrained in us,” he said.
The team is also missing Tyler Hilinski this year, who Dale said was someone he could always talk to.
“Ty never not had a smile on his face, never was the down person,” he said. “I loved Tyler. He was an awesome guy.”
To remember Hilinski, Dale got a tattoo on his arm that features the No. 3 and the nickname, Klink, which was used commonly by his teammates. Dale said he had an open spot on his arm that was perfect for the tattoo and thought it would be a great way to carry on his legacy.
“I can never get Tyler out of my memory,” he said.
Dale recalled the last time he saw Hilinski. On the morning of Jan. 16, Dale was Hilinski’s running partner for a regular workout at the Indoor Athletic Training Facility.
Dale remembers racing Hilinski back to their cars after the workout and asking him when they were going to get together to do a seven-on-seven drill later in the day, and Hilinski telling him he was going to send out a text with the details.
That was the last time Dale heard Hilinski’s voice. Later that day around 6 p.m. the whole team gathered for a meeting where they received the news of his passing.
“My heart dropped,” he said. “It didn’t seem real. Nothing seemed real until his funeral.”
Dale said he learned depression isn’t always visible.
“It could be people that are happy,” he said. “You can’t treat people different. You can never expect them to always be OK, even if they look OK.”
No matter what, Dale said Hilinski will always be with the team.
“Ty has had an impact on so many people even after his death,” he said. “He’s never going to be forgotten here.”
Regardless of how WSU fares in its home opener against San Jose State University, it will be nearly impossible to top the historic matchup 63 years ago.
The game took place on Rogers Field just adjacent to where Martin Stadium currently stands. The now-practice fields of WSU football hosted a game in blistering cold conditions that would end in a 13-13 tie and would forever be remembered as the “Refrigerator Bowl.”
The game took place in winter 1955, when Winston cigarettes advertised in The Daily Evergreen and WSU was Washington State College.
Just a day before the Cougars’ game, Head Coach Ray Hobbs and his Pullman Greyhounds football team had captured a massive win against crosstown rival Moscow High School for their 20th-consecutive win in the span of two seasons.
That game was played in sub-zero temperatures with a wind chill that brought it even below that. It was an icy precursor of what was to come for the Cougars on Nov. 12, 1955.
The Cougars were hosting the 5-2 San Jose State Spartans and were largely considered underdogs on their home field. It was in all respects a miserable season for the Cougs. They entered the game 1-6-1, with four shutout losses to their name already. Their only positive result of the season came against University of Idaho in a 9-0 conference road win.
“It was one of those terribly, terribly cold winter days,” Richard Fry, the former WSU sports information director from 1957-70, said. “I think it was November 12, was it?”
On that memorable day — so memorable Fry still remembers the date despite 63 years having passed — he was with the WSU News Bureau, positioned in the press box to witness the game that was played on a frozen tundra of a field.
He remembers how the Cougars placed steel barrels on the sidelines and started fires in them to try and keep the players warm. Throughout the game both teams tallied 13 fumbles — five from the Cougs and eight from the Spartans — because of the bone-chilling temperatures.
“One incident I remember well, Herb Ashlock was the sports editor of the Spokane [Daily] Chronicle, and I had poured some coffee for Herb and he made the mistake of taking his right glove off — and the bench those days were steel instead of wood — and when he put his hand down to get that coffee, it just froze right there to the steel,” Fry recalled. “So he took the coffee cup and poured a little hot coffee on his hand to unfreeze him.”
Writers who couldn’t handle the freezing temperatures left the press box to watch the game from the senior ballroom, which still overlooked Rogers Field.
Among the writers who were covering the game was The Daily Evergreen’s then-sports editor Tom Gullikson.
“The older members of the press box crew could remember no game ever played on the Cougar home field under such adverse weather conditions as near-zero thermometer readings and the chilling winds,” Gullikson wrote in the Nov. 15, 1955 edition of The Daily Evergreen.
He added: “According to WSC’s baseball coach Buck Bailey the Gonzaga-WSC grid-tussle of 1926 comes the closest to duplicating the conditions of last Saturday.”
Gullikson’s portrayal was not hyperbole. Nov. 12, 1955 was the coldest Nov. 12 in the entire history of the weather bureau.
It was so cold that only 1,600 fans were in attendance at Rogers Field, which sat 20,000. Only one Cougar fan who had reserved a ticket at the box office followed up to purchase the ticket and go to the game. That fan’s name was Charles Moore and he was quickly sought after by then-ticket manager Robert Smawley.
In the Nov. 15, 1955 edition of The Daily Evergreen, Gullikson’s headline read “The Search Is On.”
“Bob Smawley is still searching for the purchaser of the one reserved seat ticket sold by his ticket sellers last Saturday,” Gullikson wrote. “This person if found will be refunded the amount of money he paid for the ticket.”
“If a person buys a ticket in advance he wants a seat at the game,” Smawley said in Gullikson’s reporting. “But if a person braves a storm and buys his ticket amidst a falling snow, he really wants to see the game.”
Smawley eventually found Moore. He was honored and his money was refunded at a Cougar basketball game against then-defending Pacific Coast Conference champions Oregon State Beavers.
This weekend when the Cougars take on the Spartans, it isn’t set to produce headlines quite like the matchup did in 1955. But the Refrigerator Bowl is a small part of Cougar football that deserves recognition as one of the more unique games to ever be played in WSU history.
There is a familiar face back in Pullman — Trang Huynh has returned to the Palouse.
Huynh was a member of the 2015-16 tennis team for her senior year of college after she transferred from Troy University to join the Cougars. The native of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, left WSU with degrees in psychology and biology.
Huynh said she left Alabama because she wanted to play in the Pac-12 and fell in love with the team, and being closer to home didn’t hurt either.
“I really wanted to compete in the Pac-12, one of the best conferences,” Huynh said. “I got to meet Lisa … and the team, and I came here to visit Pullman and I really fell in love with the atmosphere. My family lives in California so it’s [nice that] we’re closer to home. West Coast is the best coast … it feels like coming back home.”
Huynh let her mark during a short career for the Cougars. She may have only played one season at WSU, but it was quite the season. She ended the year with a 32-16 singles record, which is third-most singles wins in one season in WSU’s history.
Huynh would spend time at Northern Illinois University as a graduate assistant after leaving WSU. But when she heard from WSU tennis Head Coach Lisa Hart, she jumped at the opportunity to once again wear the crimson and gray.
“Working for Lisa, I cannot ask for a better boss,” Huynh said.
Hart said having Huynh as an athlete on her team made the decision to hire her easy.
“I had the privilege of coaching her,” Hart said. “When you have someone in your program you get to know them on a completely different level. As a student-athlete there’s lots of good times and hard times, and when you watch somebody go through hard times … or how they handle adversity you learn a lot about a person. So, I’ve always just admired the way Trang carries herself.”
Huynh said her time as a Cougar athlete will help give her an advantage in coaching now that she is back in Pullman.
“There is a lot of different perspective, but I really enjoy it,” Huynh said. “I’ve been through their shoes three years ago and now I feel that I have a lot of experience that I can transfer back to them”
Huynh said she is enjoying fitting in with the team. She even remembers senior Aneta Miksovska, who was a freshman during Huynh’s playing time. Another advantage which Huynh said will help relate her to the team is that Huynh was also born outside the U.S., and the entire 2018-19 roster is comprised of international students.
“It’s a great atmosphere — we have a great group of girls,” Huynh said. “Everybody is international so we have very different cultures, but everybody has been very nice and very hardworking, so I look forward for a great season.”
Huynh will now have to switch roles from being coached by Hart to coaching with Hart. Huynh said she is learning a lot and that Hart has been patient with her while she steps into her new role.
Hart said it is satisfying to have a player return as a coach.
“It’s kind of rewarding to see players come through your program and then be on the other side of it,” Hart said. “She brings a high-level of on-court knowledge … at the root of her coaching she is a teacher, and I think that the best coaches are teachers first.”
Huynh’s teacher-first mentality is spreading beyond just Cougar tennis, as the assistant coach will be teaching tennis courses for the university. This semester Huynh teaches two classes, one basic and one intermediate/advanced.
“I really enjoy it because it’s introducing the students to the game that I love,” Huynh said. “It’s great to see people enjoying tennis.”
Huynh and the rest of Cougar tennis have begun practicing while they await this season’s schedule to be finalized. However, you can watch them hit the courts Sept. 21-23 for the annual Cougar Classic tournament.
From a recruitment host to being in each other’s weddings, WSU women’s volleyball Head Coach Jen Greeny and Assistant Coach Shannon Hunt have stronger relationship than most coaches.
Hunt is a year older and hosted Greeny on her recruitment trip to WSU.
Greeny said there were a lot of factors that brought her here. The team was winning, which always helps bring players in. But she also loved the coaches and atmosphere, not only of the campus, but of how WSU supported female athletes.
Maybe more than all of that, meeting Hunt helped bring Greeny to the Palouse as a member of the volleyball team.
“We connected right away, and we ended up being roommates,” Greeny said.
She said she got a different feeling from WSU than any other place she visited.
In their time here together as players, Greeny and Hunt were co-captains who made trips to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16.
Not only did they share a home and have all volleyball activities together, but they were both elementary education majors.
The year after Greeny got done playing she became assistant coach at WSU. She then left and coached at Pullman High School and at Lewis-Clark State College. After that, Greeny returned to WSU as the head coach.
“As soon as I got the job here I called [Hunt] and wanted her to be on the staff,” Greeny said.
Hunt accepted and was a volunteer assistant in her first year before becoming the full-time assistant coach the next year.
Greeny said having that background and trust in each other is important so they know what the other person is going to do.
She said sometimes it can be hard for their relationship not to be strained in the position they are in, but they both love what they are doing and complement each other well, so it works out.
“I think it’s a little spooky sometimes actually because we dress the same and know basically everything about each other,” Greeny said.
Having been players here at WSU, Greeny said she and Hunt gain an advantage in terms of coaching the team now.
She said the success they had as players gives them more credibility. They went through everything the players go through now in terms of being a student-athlete and dealing with school, summer practices and everything else.
“I think it is really beneficial especially because we did it here at the same school they are at,” Greeny said.
When the two took over coaching, the program had a record of 0-18 with a team GPA of just 1.96. Greeny said players had been kicked off and arrested.
She said it was probably as bad as it could get and it was something none of the alumni, especially Greeny and Hunt, wanted to see.
“To work so hard to get it back to where we are now, making it to the tournament, has made all of the heavy lifting worth it,” Greeny said.
Making the tournament in back-to-back years and getting the buy-in of the players means a lot to the two coaches.
From a recruitment visit, to playing together, being in each other’s weddings and now coaching together, Greeny and Hunt have been through a lot together, and their friendship continues to strengthen the program.
WSU football will be heavy favorites this weekend as they take on San Jose State University in its home opener.
Last time out the Cougars (1-0) traveled to Laramie to face University of Wyoming (1-1) for their first game of the season and WSU came out on top 41-19.
Starting Sunday night after the win against the Cowboys, Head Coach Mike Leach started to watch film to prepare for San Jose State (0-1).
The Spartans are going through a similar challenge to that of WSU in deciding who will be at the helm for the offense. San Jose State is shuffling between three different quarterbacks right now which can throw a wrench in just about any coach’s game plan.
“It’s difficult for anybody to prepare for this,” Leach said. “San Jose State’s wide receivers have to catch three different types of passes … [defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys] is smart and he’ll figure out how to stop them.”
There is more to San Jose State than just the quarterback position, though. In comparison to last week’s game against Wyoming, Leach felt that San Jose State would provide more of a challenge.
“Wyoming’s fast guys never really broke away from our defense, but San Jose State has some sneakier, quicker players,” he said.
The Cougars started last weekend’s game against the Cowboys with an opening drive that went the length of the field only to fall short of the end zone and ultimately cap off with a field goal. The rest of the first half went back and forth, with both Wyoming and WSU driving the ball and turning it over on downs, but for a while things turned ugly for the Cougars.
A fumble and a bad snap on a punt on back-to-back plays made it seem as if the team was in dire straits.
“You just have to punch your way back sometimes,” Leach said, “and I think we did that really well in the second half. The first half we worked out the kinks with the young guys.”
The second half the Cougars turned it around and managed to come back and take the lead against the Cowboys. Ultimately the game looked as anyone would expect the first match-up of the season to go, Leach said.
“We could have done better, we could have done worse,” he said.
Meanwhile, San Jose State lost its first game on Aug. 30 against University of California, Davis (1-0), 44-38. The two were tied at 14 after the first quarter, but in the second quarter the Aggies added 21 points to their score while holding San Jose State to just seven.
The second half seemed like the Spartans were going to make a comeback by putting up 10 points in the third and keeping UC Davis from scoring. Going into the fourth quarter down four points, both the Aggies and the Spartans would only add one more touchdown to each of their scores, putting the lead out of reach for San Jose State.
But SJSU Head Coach Brent Brennan seemed confident in his team despite the tough loss.
“That’s football 101,” he said. “Win or lose, you have to flush it and get ready for the next one.”
Brennan said his team is ready for Saturday’s game in Pullman.
“We weren’t good enough to win that game [against UC Davis],” Brennan said, “but we have been working hard since Thursday night to get ready for Washington State.”
This is a tough game coming up for the Spartans, because they haven’t won against a Pac-12 team in almost 12 years. Brennan has been looking at film and thinking of what they must do differently.
“We have to do the things we didn’t do against UC Davis,” he said. “First and foremost, we have to win the turnover battle, which we didn’t do last Thursday.”
The game will also hold special significance as Tyler Hilinski will be honored by his family, former teammates and fans.
Hilinski’s family will raise the Cougar flag to start the night, and a banner for the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, which was started by the Hilinski family to raise awareness for mental health, will hang in Martin Stadium. Players will remember their teammate by wearing a decal with Hilinki’s No. 3.
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium. The game will also be broadcasted live on Pac-12 Networks.
WSU and University of Idaho are separated by nine miles; however, at the Lower Soccer Field on Thursday night, it was three goals that separated the Cougars and Vandals.
Head Coach Todd Shulenberger was impressed with his team’s performance.
“Coming off two big road wins, I wanted to see how we would respond tonight, and we did a great job of passing the test today,” he said.
The No. 17 ranked Cougars looked to keep their undefeated record unblemished, and the WSU offense seemed determined to extend its record to 5-0. The first half of the Battle of the Palouse was dominated by the WSU offense, who noticeably controlled the possession battle.
The Cougs’ offense had the pedal to the floor as Idaho was barely able to get any offense going. Each time WSU looked destined to score, Idaho’s senior goalkeeper Makayla Presgrave would find a way to keep it out of the goal.
In the 37th minute, the Cougs finally found the back of the net off a corner kick from senior defender Maddy Haro, connecting with senior midfielder Maegan O’Neill for her first goal of the season and closing scoring for the first half.
The second half was much of the same with WSU controlling the offensive possession, leading to a great shot from junior forward Morgan Weaver that deflected off Presgrave into the back of the net and giving the Cougs a 2-0 lead in the 71st minute.
Things then took an unfortunate turn for WSU redshirt senior goalie Ella Dederick, who exited the game in the 73rd minute after leaving with an apparent leg injury following a collision with an Idaho attacker. She was replaced by redshirt junior goalkeeper Rachel Thompson.
However, the Cougar offense was not done scoring for the night. Freshman forward Hailey Smith scored her first collegiate goal in the 77th minute after a pass from Thompson, who had only been in the game for a few minutes, extending the lead to 3-0.
That would be all the Cougars would need to take the 3-0 victory in the Battle of the Palouse, extending their record on the season to a perfect 5-0.
WSU returns to the field 7 p.m. next Friday as they host University of Montana, looking to keep its undefeated start alive before it starts conference play in two weeks.
A bed in a Motel 6, the backseat of a Chevrolet TrailBlazer and the floor of a church: all places James Williams II had to sleep and call home for about a year as his family made the transition from Toledo, Ohio, to Burbank, California.
It wasn’t easy, but the redshirt junior running back got through it and will never forget the life lessons he gained from that experience.
“What we had was nothing,” Williams II said, “but at the same time we made the most of it every day, and then was when I started to realize the potential with football.”
He saw a way out. A chance to break down barriers, help his family and play the game he learned to love while chasing his cousins on the streets of Toledo.
It all started at the end of his seventh-grade year when Williams II’s father, James Williams I, decided to spend just about everything he had to move his family to California, to give his children a chance at a better life and education.
Prior to moving, Williams II played football in Ohio and spent the majority of his time on defense, dabbling with defensive end and linebacker despite scoring a touchdown the first time he ever touched the ball as a running back.
As his family struggled to find a place to sleep, his dad stumbled across a football coach for a local Pop Warner team. The coach gave Williams II a chance to play and after seeing him run sprints for the first time, he decided Williams II was made to be a running back.
Williams II took full advantage of this opportunity, getting up early every morning to practice football while he and his brother, sister, mom and dad lived in a TrailBlazer for the entire summer before he started eighth grade.
His dad said he had a plan for housing when he first moved his family to California but things fell through.
“Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong when we got here,” Williams I said.
When Williams II began eighth grade, he and his family got into Family Promise, a program designed to help homeless and low-income families. Williams II said this program allowed his family to stay in a church for about a week before having to move again to find another church to sleep in.
While they bounced around trying to find a place to sleep, his dad was using any money he had to afford a Motel 6. The Williams family would spend weeks at a time in these motels, and once they couldn’t afford it anymore they would all cram into the TrailBlazer or find a local church to stay in.
It wasn’t until Williams II completed his first year of school in California that his family was able to move into an apartment.
“It was a crazy little patch,” Williams II said. “But it got me and my family super close and made me realize how to value a dollar.”
His father shared a similar sentiment.
“It didn’t destroy us, it just made us stronger,” Williams I said.
While Williams II was playing football in eighth grade, Richard Broussard stumbled across him and was immediately impressed.
“He was a stud when I first saw him,” Broussard said.
Knowing the talent Williams II possessed, Broussard, an assistant coach at Burbank High School at that time, was looking forward to potentially working with him as he wrapped up junior high and headed to high school.
But Broussard was worried that a local private school might try to snatch up Williams II and prevent him from ever stepping on the field for Burbank.
Williams II said people around him were telling him to pursue the private school route so he could go to University of Notre Dame, but he decided to go somewhere he would stand out, and that was Burbank.
In his first season Williams II racked up over 2,000 rushing yards playing for the Burbank High School freshman team. Williams II sat down with Broussard immediately following that season and told the coach he wanted to start at running back for the varsity team his sophomore year.
So every day Williams II would sit with Broussard at lunch to go over plays to make sure nothing prevented him from starting his sophomore season. Broussard said he was impressed with Williams II’s dedication.
“You’ll never say no to a kid that wants to learn and put in the work,” he said, “but when he’s a dude like James is, it’s great.”
After months of preparation over the summer, the beginning of the football season was nearing, and Williams II knew he would have to beat out a senior running back to earn the starting job. Luckily for him, the senior got involved in a fight before the team’s first game, giving Williams II the chance to start and prove himself.
Williams II tallied 189 rushing yards and two touchdowns in that game and held on to the starting job for the rest of his high school career.
Broussard said he and the other coaches knew Williams II was going to be the starter the moment his freshman season ended.
“We made him work for it,” Broussard said. “Never told him he was any good, never told him he was great.”
Williams II continued to shine and by the end of his junior season, playing for a Division 1 school became a reality when he received an offer from University of Arizona.
“My heart dropped,” Williams II said, recalling how it felt when he received the phone call.
A week later Williams II received an offer from University of California, Berkeley, and a handful of other schools before WSU finally became interested.
[pullquote speaker=”Richard Broussard” photo=”” align=”left” background=”off” border=”none” shadow=”off”]You’ll never say no to a kid that wants to learn and put in the work, but when he’s a dude like James is, it’s great.[/pullquote]
On the other end of the line of the initial phone call to Williams II was former WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro. Williams II said the Cougars stood out from the other schools because they were talking to him every other day, and whenever they came down to California for recruiting they always stopped by to see him.
This caused Williams II to commit early to WSU before the start of his senior season — a season Williams II wishes he could have back.
Two games into his senior year, Williams II tore his Achilles tendon. Every school immediately dropped scholarship offers to Williams II except WSU — the university stayed loyal.
“I’m not going somewhere where I don’t feel wanted, and I felt wanted here,” he said.
Broussard said the injury didn’t slow Williams II down either. Instead, it made him hungrier.
Broussard recalled watching Williams II running sprints and drills while he was recovering from the injury with a handful of games left in his senior season and him wanting to get back on the field.
“You couldn’t even tell [Williams II] was hurt,” Broussard said. “He’s a freak. I don’t get it.”
Williams II also had to deal with issues in the classroom during his time in California, so much so that he was told it was academically impossible for him to go straight from Burbank to a Division 1 school.
The difficulties stemmed from his time in Ohio where Williams II said the school district was nearly nonexistent. He said students in class would mess around and ignore the teacher and the instructor would become so fed up that they would just walk out of the classroom and disappear for weeks at a time.
Those poor grades followed Williams II to California and he was placed in Special Ed for slow learners throughout junior high and most of high school.
But Williams II said he did whatever he could to make it to WSU, including getting A’s in all seven of the classes he took his senior year.
Broussard said Williams II’s work ethic and ability to fight through adversity is unmatched.
“People don’t recognize they’re blessed with talents all the time and that they can be taken away at any time,” he said. “But James knew football was his ticket. It’s the ticket to change the dynamic of his family forever.”
After he is done smashing the record books at WSU, Williams II hopes to play in the NFL and continue to prove people who doubt him wrong.
“If somebody tells me I can’t do something,” he said, “I’m going to make sure I work my way up to where I need to be.”