LEWISTON – When the Oakland Athletics lost franchise staples Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi, and Olmedo Saenz in the early 2000’s, the club wasn’t interested in replacing the trio. Rather, they looked to recreate their impact by virtue of the aggregate.
As the story goes, Oakland averaged out the three stars statistically – leaning heavily toward on-base percentage – and arrived at feasible successors in Jeremy Giambi, David Justice, and former WSU Cougar Scott Hatteburg. They would produce the same figures by committee despite little to no similarities in on-field play to the former.
With Washington State’s departure of quarterback Gardner Minshew II, linebacker Peyton Pelluer, and most recently safety Jalen Thompson to the NFL Supplemental Draft, the similarities are striking. But for the Cougar coaching staff, it isn’t numbers and statistics lost; it’s senior leadership and direction.
“That hurt to be honest with you, I looked forward to playing with [Thompson],” junior college transfer Bryce Beekman said. “But his dream came true playing in the NFL and I’m proud of Jalen.”
Minshew was an icon, a fearless leader of the offensive charge. Thompson, a similar presence on defense, was vocal and kept his squad in order. And Pelluer, a Cougar to his core turning down an Alabama transfer offer, had influence over the enitire roster as a sixth-year senior.
You can’t replace that.
But as it turns out, Leach had already been preaching the solution to this issue for decades: be a leader of yourself. And the roster has finally caught on.
“Last year, it was Peyton. A six-year guy, obviously he was head of the defense. And that’s what we were looking for at the beginning of the off season and into camp, but we don’t need that. We can all come in and coexist as leaders.”Defensive lineman Will Rodgers III
The sentiment has been shared by many over camp, and has been a reoccuring theme throughout media interviews.
“There is no one leader,” linebacker Dillon Sherman said. “I think the biggest thing is building the bond right now with the younger guys and the older guys.”
While the upperclassmen feel a sense of responsibility to perform and show the young bucks how things work, the underclassmen just want to compete and earn their spot like anyone else. Because of this, it seems the locker room unintentionally followed their coaches word to a T when hierarchy’s began to form during spring ball.
Each position group may have its top returner, but that hasn’t led itself to monocratic rule. The defensive backs, looking up the Skyler Thomas, show this well.
“He knows what he’s talking about, we all respect Skyler,” Beekman said. “But everybody else can give input. We all come together as a team to make the right decision.”
As a byproduct, Rodgers says this had led to a defense that’s more vocal. And with that, he thinks they can raise their enegry level too.
Mike Leach may have got his coaching start on the diamond during his teenage years, but don’t read that far into it. Leach had the solution before the problem arose – and the direction has done nothing but strengthen his team from the ground up.
(Top photo: Jack Ellis – Cougar Sports Network)