Seattle area natives Isaac Dotson and Peyton Pelluer grew up within driving distance of each other but didn't become friends until they got to WSU. Now, they're inseparable buddies on and off the field, and the Cougars are reaping the benefits
Without hesitation, Peyton Pelluer can list off Isaac Dotson’s favorite cereals –Cheerios, Frosted Flakes or Honeycombs – describe Dotson’s eating habits in detail (he chases his meals with a bowl of cereal) and name his favorite TV show (Family Guy).
Dotson knows Pelluer’s favorite musical artists (Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla $ign), his room temperature preferences (he likes it freezing cold) and his post-shower hair routine – yes, Pelluer uses conditioner on those long, brown locks and takes about 20 minutes to comb them out after a wash.
Despite growing up 15 miles from each other – Pelluer is from Sammamish, Dotson from Bellevue – Washington State’s two redshirt junior starting inside linebackers were more acquaintances than friends in their early days as Seattle-area prep football stars.
Today, Pelluer and Dotson live in a house with fellow linebacker Paris Taylor, quarterback Luke Falk and running back Jamal Morrow. It’s a fun group of guys who play Call of Duty together, razz Falk for his health nut tendencies, and often gather for big post-game meals cooked by their parents.
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Pelluer and Dotson have lived together for almost four years now. They’ve become inseparable best friends ever since their freshman year at WSU in 2013, and that chemistry has translated well onto the field this season.
Pelluer, who’s started every game at middle linebacker, leads the Cougars’ defense into the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 27 with a team-high 89 tackles and is third on the defense with 7.5 tackles for loss. Despite missing the Colorado game with an injury, Dotson is fourth on the Cougars’ defense with 56 tackles, and is tied for second with two interceptions.
With Dotson’s move from safety to will linebacker this spring, he and Pelluer, a three-year starter at middle linebacker, are now playing the same position for the first time since they arrived at WSU.
Pelluer’s close friendship with Dotson, coupled with Dotson’s background as a former high school quarterback, has produced a level of interconnectedness rivaled by few linebacker tandems in the country.
“With Peyton calling the defense for so long and Isaac being a former quarterback, their communication skills on the field are better than anyone I’ve been around in a long time,” said Ken Wilson, WSU’s inside linebackers coach.
WSU went into this season looking to replace Jeremiah Allison at the will linebacker spot. Allison, a two-year starter, was the inspirational leader of WSU’s defense last year, and his graduation left a leadership void both on and off the field.
“Because he was such a vocal, outgoing guy, it was interesting for us to see who was going to pick that slack up,” Wilson said.
Dotson moved from safety to linebacker in January, but missed all of spring football with an unspecified injury, so the Cougars didn’t get a look at what he could do until he finally got on the field in fall camp.
After jumping around from quarterback to safety to nickelback, it became immediately apparently this fall that linebacker will be Dotson’s “forever home.”
“We weren’t sure what we’d have there, but he’s been the surprise of all the guys,” Wilson said. “His improvement from week to week is outstanding, and he sees the game from a quarterback’s perspective and sees things that guys who’ve played the game for a long time don’t see.
“This year is the first time he’s been solidified in one position all season. His upside is gigantic, and he’s gonna get better and better.”
At 6-1, 224 pounds, Dotson has gained more than 20 pounds since he arrived in Pullman as a quarterback hopeful in 2013. He’s athletic enough to drop back and cover receivers when necessary, but has the strength to take on big running backs, and is fast enough to blitz when called upon to do so.
Also, “he’s a good communicator,” Wilson said of Dotson. “Which helps Peyton because he’s a good communicator but he’s not as outgoing as Isaac is.”
The two inside ‘backers often echo one another on the field to ensure everyone is lined up correctly and reading the offense the same way.
But when they’re lined up side-by-side in the middle of the defense, they don’t even have to talk to understand one another.
“We’re just on the same page a lot of the time,” Dotson says. “We can communicate with each other, we know how to talk to each other, and we don’t even have to make eye contact.”
“It’s down to a point where we don’t have to speak sentences,” Pelluer quips. “We can make grunts and noises.”
“There’s definitely a trust thing between us that makes it easier,” Dotson says. “And it’s just more fun. Even between plays, we’ll joke around, like, ‘Did you see that hit?’”
This pair is special, Wilson says, likening them to another dynamic linebacking duo he once coached at Nevada: Brandon Marshall – now with the Denver Broncos – and James Michael Johnson, a fourth-round selection by the Cleveland Browns in 2012, who most recently played for the Miami Dolphins.
Marshall and Johnson “were very similar to these two guys,” Wilson says of Dotson and Pelluer. “They lived together their whole college career, were always together and finished each other’s sentences. We called them the old married couple.”