Cougs give Hollenbeck a home

  • Craig Hill / The News Tribune
  • Wednesday, November 14, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Craig Hill

The News Tribune

PULLMAN – Joey Hollenbeck is the guy in the Washington State offensive huddle who laughs every time quarterback Jason Gesser calls play 3-15 or 3-16.

“Every time he says ‘three’ it sounds like ‘tree,’” Hollenbeck said.

He’s the guy who makes fun of his quarterback when he makes a bad play during a game.

“Hey, we’re playing a game,” Hollenbeck said. “You got to have fun out there.”

He’s also the guy whose charming personality has made him the leader of one of the best offensive lines in the Pacific-10 Conference.

The Cougars’ linemen, including Hollenbeck, say they don’t really have a leader. They insist they are on equal footing. But Gesser, who watches the unit interact as it protects him, says Hollenbeck is the leader.

“He’s the only senior on the line,” Gesser said. “He’s the funniest guy. He talks trash, he even talks trash to me in the huddle. He’s always doing something to lighten things up. He’s having fun.”

Hollenbeck, 6-foot-4 and 277 pounds, has emerged as a dominant player despite taking a rather peculiar path to this point.

“We moved him around a lot,” Cougars coach Mike Price said. “He probably didn’t like that, but he never said a peep.”

The Enumclaw High School graduate arrived at his first WSU practice in 1998 as a defensive lineman, and assistant coach Larry Lewis was waiting for him in the parking lot.

“I’ll never forget it,” Hollenbeck said. “I was expecting to redshirt, but coach Lewis asked me if I wanted to play right away. That sounded good to me, so they put me on Red Alert.”

Red Alert is a dramatic way of saying he would play if somebody got hurt, otherwise he would redshirt. The defense line was thin and not playing well, so Hollenbeck played three downs of the second game of the season.

Then against Idaho, Gary Holmes broke his ankle. Hollenbeck was pushed into action and he responded with a dominant performance. He had three tackles for a loss, including two sacks.

The next week against California, Hollenbeck became the first freshman to start on the defensive line since Ken Collins in 1978. He played in eight games in ‘98 and thought he had a bright future with the defense.

Then, before fall practice started in 1999, he stepped on a small piece of glass from a cup his roommate dropped. Two pieces of glass got stuck in his foot so he needed surgery. He missed all of fall practice, five games and lost his starting job to Tomasi Kongaika.

Before he returned to action, Price called him into his office after the Cougars lost to Idaho. He asked Hollenbeck to move to the offensive line, where the Cougars were short on depth. By the end of the season, he was moved back to defense to fill in for injured defensive players.

“Basically I was playing both ways,” Hollenbeck said.

In the spring of 2000, he made the move back to the offensive line and played in all 11 games. With five games to play, he moved into the starting lineup and hasn’t relinquished the left guard position since.

“When I was going through all of that, I wondered about things a little bit,” Hollenbeck said. “Like, ‘What would have happened if they had left me on defense? What if I had been able to play my entire career on the offensive line? Or what if I had redshirted?’

“That was always going through my mind. But now, I’m very happy with the ways things have worked out.”

There’s plenty to be happy about. WSU is 9-1 and can clinch at least a share of the Pac-10 title with a victory over Washington. The offensive line is playing well enough for the Cougars to rush for 1,420 yards this season despite not having their top running back, David Minnich, for three games.

It sure beats those first three years of Hollenbeck’s career, in which the Cougars won only 10 games out of 34.

“Joey Hollenbeck is one of those guys who has gone through a lot for us and has given us every ounce of everything he has,” Price said. “The Apple Cup means everything to him.”

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