Somehow, Josh Watson and Abraham Lucas never met before college.
Watson and Lucas grew up minutes away from one another in south Everett. They were standout football players who eventually settled in on the offensive line, and they were just one year apart in school. One would think their paths had to have crossed somewhere, whether in a youth league, at a football camp or even through a mutual acquaintance.
But no, it wasn’t until they became teammates on the Washington State University football team that they first met face-to-face.
“He lives like as couple cul-de-sacs down from me, but we didn’t have any interaction or knowledge of each other,” Watson said. “It’s kind of weird considering how close we live to each other.”
It may have required a 300-mile drive, but Watson and Lucas are strangers no longer. Indeed, they’ve become a unit. The near neighbors are holding down the right side of Washington State’s offensive line, which has been one of the best in the nation, and their contributions have been crucial in what’s been a magical ride for the Cougars.
“I think it’s awesome,” Lucas said about the Cougars having an all-Everett right side of the line. “I didn’t know Josh growing up, but it’s cool being on the right side together. We have a thing where we call ourselves the ‘Everett Boys.’”
The “Everett Boys” have been instrumental in WSU’s success.
Blocking their way to success
When the Pac-12 released the results of its preseason media poll in July, Washington State was an afterthought. The Cougars were picked to finish fifth in the six-team Pac-12 North and expected to be little more than cannon fodder for the division’s true contenders like Washington and Stanford.
Yet with two weeks left in the regular season Washington State finds itself alone in first place in the division at 6-1 in conference and 9-1 overall. The Cougars are ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and the College Football Playoff rankings, and wins against Arizona on Saturday and Washington the following Friday would put WSU into the Pac-12 Championship Game — and perhaps into the CFP conversation.
How did the Cougars accomplish this? A big reason is the play of the offensive line. Washington State has allowed just seven sacks in 10 games this season, tied for the third-fewest in FBS. This is despite the Cougars attempting 537 passes, by far the most in the country. The play of the offensive line has helped transform quarterback Gardner Minshew from an unknown graduate transfer into a mustachioed national sensation, with WSU leading the country in passing offense at 392.3 yards per game.
Watson and Lucas are a big part of that. The duo have been been starters on Washington State’s offensive line since the beginning of the season. Watson, a redshirt sophomore from Cascade High School, slots in at right guard while Lucas, a redshirt freshman from Archbishop Murphy High School, lines up at right tackle. They are two of the Cougars’ three new starters on the offensive line this season, but the lack of experience hasn’t proven a hindrance.
“We had to integrate some new faces into that unit,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said during his Oct. 29 press conference. “O-line is the most important position on any team, in my opinion. As they get used to each other they start to play better because the O-line is a very synchronized position. As they’re in there beside one another they play better and better, and I don’t even think we’ve seen the best work out of our O-line yet because I do think we’re still improving.”
Different paths, different styles
In Washington State’s “Air Raid” offense, the offensive linemen typically position themselves about three feet from one another. But though Watson and Lucas spend every play in close proximity, they arrived at their positions in different ways.
Lucas was the blue chip. A physical specimen who now measures 6-foot-7 and 320 pounds and used to play tight end, Lucas was highly coveted coming out of Archbishop Murphy in 2017. Though he redshirted last season, there was little doubt he was going to be the starter at right tackle this season, and he’s been everything advertised, making life impossible for opposing edge rushers with his long arms and quick feet.
“The most impressive thing is that he’s one of the best offensive linemen in the conference as a freshman,” Leach said in his Nov. 5 press conference. “I don’t know where his ceiling is, but it’s up there pretty good.”
Watson, in contrast, came in under the radar. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder was something of an unknown when he graduated from Cascade in 2016, and there was no guarantee he was going to start this season. He began camp as the starter at left guard, gave way to Liam Ryan, then had to battle to win the job at right guard. While Watson may not have Lucas’ natural gifts, he’s compensated with hard work and intelligence. “He’s the brains and I’m the brawn,” Lucas said.
“(Lucas is) the muscle of the operation on the right side, I’ll tell you that,” Watson said. “I’m undersized and he’s a lot bigger than me. Usually I help out on making the calls. We complement each other well and have good chemistry.”
The two also bring different personalities to the sidelines. Lucas is more the strong, silent type while Watson is a master at keeping things light.
“(Watson is) a funny guy, kind of goofy,” Lucas said. “He doesn’t know how to dance, but he does it anyway and it’s funny to watch.”
“I always like to smile,” Watson said. “I like to be loud and do weird stuff on the field and get everyone going. If you’re not having fun, why do it?”
Onward and upward
Washington State is now the team to beat in the Pac-12. The Cougars are the top-ranked team from the conference and the only Pac-12 team with fewer than three defeats. Both of WSU’s remaining games are at home. If the Cougars win those two, they will earn their first North Division title since the conference split in 2011 and have a chance at their first conference championship since 2002. The tantalizing prospect of a possible CFP berth, while well on the horizon, is also there.
Watson and Lucas aren’t fixating on the potentialities, however.
“I couldn’t care less about that right now,” Watson said. “I’m more caring about winning the next game. That’s where our focus is.”
That said, they’re confident in their team and what the Cougars can accomplish.
“I think the sky is the limit, to be honest,” Lucas said. “There’s always room for improvement on everything, but if we keep improving I know we can accomplish a lot of great stuff.”
If they do, a big part of it will be because of the “Everett Boys” on the right side.