By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — There are still times when Justin Sagote doesn’t quite know where he’s supposed to be on the football field. As a junior college transfer with six official practices under his belt as a Washington State linebacker, that’s understandable.
But Sagote makes up for it by remembering the four-word philosophy that earned him a Division-1 scholarship.
“Run to the ball,” the quiet junior said after another scorching practice at WSU on Tuesday.
“There’s millions of times I don’t know what I’m doing on the field, but I guess effort makes up for it if you just run to the ball.”
Well, millions is probably a bit of an overstatement. Especially considering that coach Mike Leach has already referred, unprompted, to Sagote by name in post-practice interviews as a player who has caught his eye.
Sagote is learning, yes. But he’s also seemingly everywhere, including Tuesday when he took over for presumed starter Chester Su’a at the WIL linebacker position during a brief mini-scrimmage at Martin Stadium toward the end of practice.
The message there?
“If you want to play here, and you want to play linebacker, then you play like this,” said linebackers coach Jeff Choate, adding emphasis to that final word in reference to Sagote.
“I wouldn’t say he’s quite game ready, but he’s got the exact mindset that we expect out of our guys. He’s learning the system and we’re going to have to force the envelope with him, because he’s going to play a ton for us.”
At 6-feet and 220 pounds with long, black hair flowing from under his helmet, Sagote does, indeed, sprint to the football like a mad man, even if he doesn’t quite know all of his assignments yet. Choate said he thinks Sagote can play both of the inside linebacker positions, and he played both inside and outside in junior college.
“Anything to make the team better,” said the native of Santa Clara, Calif. “If that’s the way to do it, that’s the way to do it. I have family back home and they kind of motivate me. It’s hard for me, but I’ve got to keep pushing. Whatever’s best for the team, I try to help them out since I’m part of this Coug family.”
In high school, Sagote said he played center and guard, and didn’t make the transition to linebacker until his senior year.
By then, he said, it was too late to get any looks from four-year schools. So Sagote continued to learn the position at College of San Mateo, where he had 39.5 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks as a sophomore last season and received scholarship offers from San Diego State and Purdue before WSU brought him to Pullman for a visit.
Sagote had his offer pulled by SDSU when he decided to take his trip to Purdue — which eventually offered him a scholarship- but all of that was moot by the time he left for the Palouse.
“I always wanted to play in the Pac-12,” said Sagote, who signed with WSU in mid-March. “When I saw everyone in the locker room, it was like family. Everyone’s talking to each other. I wanted to be part of a family. A team is always a family.”
Consider the Cougars happy to have him.
“The JC things are always a crapshoot — especially the late guys — and sometimes you get really fortunate and they come in a lot more ready to play than they might have been otherwise, and that’s the case with Justin,” Choate said.
“I hope that some of those other guys are watching him, and if they’re not, they’re going to be watching him because he’s going to be the one playing.”