It's not ideal, but WSU linebacker Peyton Pelluer is back for a sixth season after his redshirt senior year was cut short with a broken foot. Mike Leach is happy to have Pelluer's experience, and Pelluer is happy to continue a Cougar legacy that has spanned back to the 1920s.
This was not how middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer envisioned his final season at Washington State.
That was supposed to be last year, when he and 12 other fifth-year seniors could bask in the knowledge they had played huge roles in transforming the program, helping lead the team to three straight bowl games after 11 consecutive losing seasons.
But in the third game of last season, during Washington State’s 52-23 victory over Oregon State, Pelluer broke his left foot. His season was over.
But not his career. The former Skyline High School of Sammamish star applied for a sixth year of eligibility, and it was granted earlier this year. So if it isn’t the finale that Pelluer, the fourth generation in his family to play football for WSU, had envisioned, he’s certainly not complaining.
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“It was either (apply for a sixth year) or try to train for the NFL with a broken foot,” said Pelluer, who said it took about six months after the injury to feel like he was back to 100 percent. “So to me it seemed like a no-brainer. It was the best opportunity I had at that time, and still is, for what I want to do. And that’s to play this game as long as I can.”
Among the players WSU has to replace this season is fellow linebacker Isaac Dotson, who had roomed with Pelluer since they were freshmen. Pelluer also lost two more roommates who finished their college careers: Luke Falk, the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer, and Jamal Morrow, the team’s leading rusher.
Washington State certainly could have used Pelluer at the end of last season when injuries contributed to the team going 3-4 in its final seven games after starting 6-0. But having him back this year is sure a bonus.
“He’s one of those guys that has all the intangibles,” coach Mike Leach said of Pelluer, who has made the All-Pac-12 academic teams four times and is taking graduate courses in teaching. “And I believe when you’ve got a guy like that it rubs off on all the others.”
Senior receiver Kyle Sweet was the only junior living with Pelluer and the three others last year. The two now share a place with senior defensive tackle Nick Begg. He and Pelluer are considered the leaders of the defense.
“He is the quarterback of our defense,” Begg said. “He knows everything and he’s got the most experience of all of us. You can’t come close to comparing anyone else on the defense to him.”
But Pelluer brings something much more tangible to the defense. At 6 feet and 230 pounds, he is a tackling machine — just like father Scott was at WSU before playing five seasons in the NFL.
Peyton Pelluer has 254 career tackles, finishing fifth in the Pac-12 as a sophomore with 101 and fourth as a junior with 93. A two-time honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection, Pelluer seemed headed to a huge season last year.
He was Pac-12 defensive player of the week for his work in WSU’s come-from-behind win over Boise State in the second game of the season. His 14 tackles that game were a season high for the Cougars and he also returned an interception 36 yards for a touchdown.
The next week, Pelluer was back in the news. He broke his foot against Oregon State. Because of that, everything changed.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions,” Pelluer said. “From finding out my foot was broken after the game to finding out (several months later) that I would get another season, just a lot of mixed emotions. It was tough, but it all worked out in the end.”
Not that it was easy. The fracture was at the bottom of his foot “and it was tough to heal.” For a month, he could not put any weight on his foot, and he used a scooter to help him get around.
“The scooter was fun for a day,” he said. “But it can be sketchy in the snow.”
Pelluer said the injury made him more appreciative of playing football.
“It definitely makes you sit back and look at things for what they are, and it just puts a different perspective on everything,” he said. “When I came back for spring ball, I wasn’t 100 percent healthy. But it was just fun to be out there, running around playing football again. It was tough sitting back last season – knowing that I couldn’t help — but I am obviously having a lot more fun now just because of that experience.”
Pelluer said it tugs at his heart when he thinks about his great-grandfather, Carl Gustafson, who was a flanker for WSU from 1925-27 and won the team’s Fred Bohler Award for being inspirational in a vote by the players.
Grandfather Arnie Pelluer was an end for the Cougars from 1953-55, and father Scott won the Bohler Award in 1980 as a senior.
“I can reflect on not only what I have done, but what my family has done, and I just think that’s super cool,” he said. “When I think about my great-grandfather playing in the ’20s – like that’s insane.”
But despite the long family history at WSU, uncle Steve was a quarterback at Washington who played in the NFL for eight seasons, and older brother Cooper played for the Huskies.
“My brother made the right decision for sure,” Pelluer said. “He doesn’t regret that and I’m glad he went there, and it was fun watching him play ball at UW. I am just thankful for this opportunity to be here and be a Cougar.”
Pelluer will have a new look during his extra season, with his hair now short after having it long the past few seasons (“I just had to do it”). But there are a lot of new things with the Cougars defense, including defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who took over for Alex Grinch, who left for Ohio State.
“(The defensive scheme) is very similar to what we ran with Grinch,” Pelluer said. “Coach Claeys is awesome. He came in and didn’t want to change things up too much. … Some of the verbiage is different, but for the most part, he did most of the learning. So my hat is off to him. It has made it easier on the vets who were here under Grinch, and honestly, it’s a pretty easy scheme for these new guys as well.”
Of course, the new guys can also lean on Pelluer.
“We have a lot of young guys and it’s important for them to see and be around a guy like Peyton, who has been in the system through good times and bad times,” Sweet said. “His class was the one that re-amped the program. He’s just a seasoned vet and you want as many of those guys around that you can.”
Pelluer, who wants to teach and coach when he is done playing, just wants to continue what he helped start at WSU: a winning tradition.
“That is my goal, just to keep this train rolling,” he said. “Obviously, we did lose a lot of guys. But that’s no excuse to not keep winning. We’ve got a lot of young guys, but they are doing great. … I think we are coming along nicely as a team and there is no reason why we have to take a step backward.”