This summer, former WSU walk-on Kaleb Fossum made the difficult choice to leave the Cougars and join Nevada on a scholarship, but that meant leaving behind his old teammates and his best friend, WSU nickelback Hunter Dale
If everything had gone according to plan, Washington State nickelback Hunter Dale would have spent this Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium trying to shut down his best friend and former Cougar teammate, Kaleb Fossum when Fossum’s new team, Nevada (0-3), came to town to take on 18th-ranked WSU.
Fossum, in case the name rings a bell, started his college football career as a walk-on receiver for the Cougars, but transferred to Nevada this summer when the Wolf Pack offered him a scholarship and a high probability of a starting role in their new Air Raid offense.
Despite all that bait, leaving WSU was a tough decision for Fossum, and one he had to make not once, but twice.
This summer, long after he’d moved home from Pullman to Lake Forest, Calif., and just weeks before he reported to his new team in Reno, the Cougars tried to lure Fossum back to WSU by finally offering him the scholarship he’d coveted for two years.
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“The hardest part was that I’d sold all my stuff, my bed and everything, and I’d left all my friends and said my goodbyes. I was home in California ready to go to school at Nevada,” Fossum said in an interview this summer. “They’re like an ex-girlfriend. They broke my heart and I’m kinda over it.”
However, he did strongly consider the Cougars’ offer, in part because of the relationship he’d established with WSU inside receivers coach Dave Nichol, and in part because of his strong friendship with Dale.
“That kid will probably be the best man at my wedding,” Fossum said of Dale. “That kid will be my best friend for life. It’s a special friendship and I don’t think you can clone it. He’s one of the only people I can spend every day with.”
Fossum and Dale, both juniors, hit it off while standing on the sideline together during their freshman year and watching in helplessness as WSU’s 2015 opener against Portland State unraveled. The Cougars lost miserably, but Fossum and Dale started talking during that game and have been inseparable ever since.
“We just became really good friends. He’s like a brother to me,” said Dale, a Louisiana native who’s spent many spring breaks and holidays at the Fossum family home in California because it was cheaper than flying back to New Orleans.
“His family is just like mine. It’s how me and Kaleb are so alike. We like the same artists, the same music, we grew up watching the same things, we like working out and we’re both hard workers,” Dale said. “His family is Italian and my family is Italian too. They made huge Italian dinners like spaghetti and meatballs so we’d just pig out every time we were over there.”
Over the first two years of their college football careers, Dale and Fossum worked out together, went out together on weekends, kept each other motivated, and honed each other’s skills by matching up one-on-one any time they found a patch of grass where Fossum could run a route and Dale could defend him.
When they realized Fossum’s Nevada team would play WSU on Week 4 of this season, both men circled Sept. 23 on their calendars.
For both guys, this was the ultimate test: Can you outdo the player who knows your every move?
“He doesn’t do a lot of moves. He’ll get to where he has to be, and then, when he gets the ball, he goes straight upfield and doesn’t go left or right with all the juking and stuff,” Dale said. “We’ve gone up against each other since freshman year because he played slot and I played safety.”
After taking hundreds of practice reps together, they wanted to pit their skills against each other in a real game.
“I’d love to try to tear Hunter up on every play,” Fossum said this summer. “We’ve been trash talking.”
Fossum’s Nevada career started exactly the way he’d hoped. He earned the starting job at H-receiver and was the holder and main kick and punt returner to begin the season.
But in the third quarter of Nevada’s season opening defeat to Northwestern, Fossum was tackled awkwardly on the end of a kickoff return, and he dislocated his left kneecap.
He hasn’t played since. The good news, however, is that the injury is not season-ending, and Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme indicated this week that Fossum is close to getting back on the field.
“He’s really day-to-day right now,” Mumme said. “He’s really trying to get back. It’s really important to him, this game (against Washington State) and what it means. But we’re not gonna push Kaleb too hard to get back before he’s ready. We need him for conference play.”
Fossum will travel to Pullman with the Wolf Pack, but it’s unlikely that he’ll see the field against WSU.
Still, he’ll at least get to greet his old friends and coaches, and to catch up with Dale, whom he hasn’t seen since this summer, though they chat several times a week and keep up with each other through social media.
The trash talking between Dale and Fossum tapered a little after Fossum’s injury, but Dale had this parting shot for his buddy this week.
“Don’t even worry about not playing,” Dale told Fossum. “If I were to guard you, I’d lock you up and it’ll be like you’re not playing anyway.”
Now, that, is true brotherhood.