By Jacob Thorpe The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — When the Washington State football team beat Utah on Saturday to become bowl eligible for the first time in seven years, many players and coaches wore T-shirts that said “Property of Sacajawea Junior High.”
The phrase was an homage to the Lewiston, Idaho, site of the Cougars fall camp, where they spent the month of August training for the upcoming season away from the WSU campus.
The players and coaches at WSU believe that the experience was beneficial, and that wearing the shirts can serve as a reminder to draw upon the learning experiences that took place.
“All you saw was your teammates,” safety Deone Bucannon said. “You don’t see students on campus, you can’t just go anywhere. It’s football, you hangout with your teammates, and then you go to sleep. It’s over and over and that creates a camaraderie, it’s more of a family and a bond that’s created in that kind of environment and I think that really helped us this year.”
In camp, players were assigned roommates with the intention of getting them to spend time with their teammates who were least like them. Offensive players with defensive players. Seniors with freshmen.
Head coach Mike Leach said that the roommate pairings were not inspired out of any concern for or sense of cliques developing amongst the team. Rather, he said, it was an attempt to accelerate cohesion amongst a group of young, unacquainted players.
“We had a lot of awfully young players and people that didn’t know one another. And then naturally in the course of practice there are positions that don’t see much of one another,” Leach said. “Your offensive lineman doesn’t see much of the starting corner for example, or your starting wide receiver doesn’t see much of maybe a defensive tackle, that type of thing.”
Bucannon — a senior defensive back — was paired with freshman safety River Cracraft and acknowledged that the experience led him to develop bonds with teammates he might not have otherwise had occasion to meet.
“Whoever your roommate was, was the opposite of you,” Bucannon said. “It was a (defensive) lineman and an (offensive) lineman. Just the person that’s your opposite on the field and if your opposite is close to you than imagine the people that you play with.”
Last Apple Cup
In 2012 the Cougars came back from a 28-10 fourth-quarter deficit to beat Washington 31-28 in overtime in the Apple Cup. It’s a memory the players still cherish, even as they prepare to defend their Apple Cup trophy a year later on Friday.
“The last one just kind of jumps out at me,” Bucannon said. “Taking that knee before (Andrew) Furney kicked that field goal and you can’t really look but you’ve got to look. That was probably the biggest thing that got to me.
“And then when he made that field goal everybody just runs on to the field, I just remember Jeff Tuel sprinting onto the field. He was so happy, I just remember his face.”
The lasting effects of that win are more than simply nostalgic, however. That game stands as the bellwether for a program that is trying to cultivate an ability to overcome adversity.
“I think it started to reveal some of the potential our team had,” Leach said. “And that’s the thing we’ve got to continue to do, continue to unfold what our potential is. Because the first thing is realizing what you can do and I don’t think we’ve reached that point, where we fully realize what our potential is and what we can do.”