Sultan grad earns football scholarship at Washington State

Redshirt senior Taylor Comfort was ready to move on, but now gets a shot to start on the Cougs’ D-line.

Taylor Comfort, a graduate of Sultan High School, is in the running to start on WSU’s defensive line this season. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Taylor Comfort, a graduate of Sultan High School, is in the running to start on WSU’s defensive line this season. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

By Theo Lawson / The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN — Taylor Comfort had already begun preparing for the next stage of his life — the one that usually comes for college football players who don’t run a blistering 40-yard dash or have the traits that would get them in the door of an NFL camp.

The 6-foot, 280-pound walk-on defensive lineman and criminal justice major was getting ready for a line of work that didn’t involve pigskins, pads or pylons.

Because he’d exhausted his academic eligibility before his athletic eligibility, earning an undergraduate degree in May, Comfort saw a light at the end of his college football tunnel earlier this spring — even as his role on the gridiron was expanding.

It didn’t matter that the special-teams lifer was finally getting a long-awaited chance to contribute on defense. By the end of spring camp, Comfort had played well enough to emerge as the front-runner to replace Daniel Ekuale at starting nose tackle. But the Sultan native wouldn’t see his efforts out as long as he had to pay the walk-on rate.

“I’d already graduated, but I didn’t think I’d come back for another year of football because I couldn’t afford it just to take random classes,” Comfort said.

It was time for the Cougars to invest in Comfort.

In May, Comfort was one of five players WSU bumped from walk-on to scholarship. It meant he could cease his post-grad job hunt and continue to play the game he loves — now free of cost. In the classroom, Comfort will work toward a second degree in psychology this fall. On the field, he’ll try to secure WSU’s starting nose tackle job.

“It was a dream come true,” Comfort said. “Getting to play football, that’s the dream. I don’t want to get a job.”

Second-year defensive line coach Jeff Phelps got the privilege of breaking the news to his player.

“It was a great feeling,” Phelps said. “He’s worked his butt off and earned it and he’s what Cougar football is all about. A guy that comes in as a walk-on, from a small town, wants to prove himself and he comes out and does well.”

Jammed between defensive tackle Nick Begg and defensive end Will Rodgers III on the No. 1 defensive line, Comfort has held his ground through two weeks of fall camp, fending off one of the prized gems of WSU’s latest recruiting class: three-star junior college transfer Jonathan “Pono” Lolohea, who then left the program for unspecified reasons.

Ekuale, a 6-3, 276-pound American Samoa native, thrived at nose tackle next to All-American Hercules Mata’afa last season. Shaped more like a fire hydrant, Comfort has to find ways to compensate for his lack of height.

It’s a disadvantage in some cases — “It’s probably better to be tall,” he said, “but you work with what God gave you, right?” — but Comfort’s low center of gravity also has its perks.

“Because you don’t want him under your pads,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “He’s really good with that, both naturally and talent-wise with his strength and how violent he is with his hands.”

Leach also points out that Comfort is deceptively quick when it comes to running to the ball.

“The one thing you may not have noticed is there will be a lot of screens and … he’s right there in position to make the tackle after it’s like 3-5 yards down the field,” Leach said. “(He’s) in there in the middle of combat and then just sprints out there and he’s still in position. He runs a little better than you’d think.”

Comfort’s first start would also coincide with the first defensive snaps of his career. He appeared in all 13 games as a redshirt junior, but only on special teams. Comfort played in a single game in 2016 as a redshirt sophomore.

“Him playing gave us a really clear picture of what he could do,” Phelps said. “And with Garrett (McBroom) and Daniel graduating, he’s the one that’s played some college football for us. So it was an easy decision on our part.”

Leach wouldn’t place Comfort in the same category as other hard-laboring walk-ons — “I’d say he’s above that” — and compares him to another defensive walk-on that had success with the Cougars.

“We’ll see how his career finishes,” the coach said, “but he’s got some Parker Henry qualities.”

Talk to us

More in Sports

Washington State offensive lineman Josh Watson (65) lines up for a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Oregon in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. Oregon won 43-29. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Even a COVID-19 diagnosis can’t rattle Cougars’ Watson

The Cascade graduate is staying positive during his senior season at WSU despite all the challenges.

Malakhi Knight rounds third base during a game. (Photo courtesy of Malakhi Knight)
Marysville Getchell’s Knight switches commitment to UCLA

The state’s top-ranked baseball player for the class of 2021 originally committed to Oregon State.

Washington quarterback Dylan Morris gestures after Washington defeated Utah 24-21 in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
No. 23 UW helped Stanford, but it’s all business on gameday

The Huskies gave the vagabond Cardinal a place to practice, but will looking for a big win Saturday.

Washington guard Nahziah Carter (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arizona Saturday, March 7, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Carter announces departure from UW men’s basketball team

The senior guard had been suspended indefinitely, but is now leaving for good to pursue a pro career.

Drew Timme and the rest of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team played Auburn the day after a Bulldogs player tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
POLL RESULTS: Readers split on Gonzaga choosing to play

A small majority objects to the Bulldogs playing a day after a player tested positive for COVID-19.

FILE - In this Dec. 15, 2019, file photo, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Josh Gordon (10) sets up against the Carolina Panthers during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. The Seahawks are bringing back wide receiver Josh Gordon on a one-year deal even as the talented pass catcher awaits reinstatement from the NFL after his latest suspension.   Gordon’s signing was confirmed on Twitter by his agent David Canter on Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, just two days before the Seahawks must cut their roster to 53 players.  (AP Photo/Brian Blanco, File)
Gordon reinstated, can play in final 2 games for Seahawks

The wide receiver has been out of the NFL for nearly a year after his eighth suspension.

Washington defensive back Kyler Gordon lines up against Oregon State during an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Archbishop Murphy alum Gordon fills multiple roles for UW

The defensive back has force a fumble on defense and has been a special teams standout this season.

Community sports roundup: Local swimmers shine in college

Rice’s Nicole Limberg and Alabama’s Matthew King recently turned in standout performances.

Utah center Branden Carlson (35) defends against Washington forward Hameir Wright (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Washington men fall to 0-3 with Pac-12 loss to Utah

The Huskies shoot just 35.2% from the field and 20% from 3 in the 76-62 loss on the road.

Most Read