PULLMAN – Mike Leach will tolerate the pregame processions, waterworks and photo opportunities that’ll take place before Washington State’s home finale against Oregon State Saturday – same as he always has – but the Cougars’ eighth-year coach would bypass all “this Senior Day stuff” if he had any part in the decision-making process.
WSU will go through all the normal rituals for 14 members of the 2019 senior class before kickoff, but Leach hopes the emotions of “Senior Day” don’t detract from a football game with the highest of stakes.
The five-win Cougars take on the five-win Beavers in a Pac-12 North duel that will double as a postseason play-in game.
WSU and OSU still have multiple chances at securing a bowl berth, but leaving this to the final week would be considered a risk for both. The Cougars close the season with UW in Seattle, where they haven’t won in 12 years, and the Beavers make the short trip to Eugene to play an Oregon team that will need to win, and win with style points, to stay in the College Football Playoff conversation.
While WSU’s senior class ranges from players who’ve been with the program since February to those who’ve been in Pullman for a half-decade, none of the seniors on this team have ever experienced an empty December – at least not while they’ve been with the Cougars. WSU has gone to the postseason four years in a row and nobody on this team was part of the last team (2014) to miss out on bowl eligibility.
“This is a good group, very diligent group,” Leach said. “We expect to play some more games here, so this Senior Day stuff … you’ll have journalists and well-wishers get choked up over the deal. I’ll tell you one thing we don’t do, never have done is Senior Day, go down there to that locker room and sit there and go have these misty journeys down memory lane. Sit and worry about ‘oh this,’ ‘oh that,’ ‘oh the other thing.’
“Because you’re busy going out there playing a game. So our head’s focused on going out there and playing a game. … So you guys have fun with your Senior Day and we’ll try to get a first down.”
In case it sounds apathetic, the WSU coach later stated the importance of celebrating moments and memories with his senior class, but he believes it’s better to revel in things like that when the team holds its annual postseason banquet.
And if they reach a bowl game, it’s more time the seniors are able to spend in each other’s company.
“Now as a team, especially at the bowl site and things like that, and after the bowl when you have the banquet, you kind of celebrate the memories and what you did together and things like that,” Leach said. “Senior Day with regard to going out there and getting your coronation or whatever you get. That’s really kind of a deal for the fans to send off the seniors and I think it’s good, I think it’s important, I think our guys are excited about it. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think it’s indulged particularly long.”
Saturday, the Cougars will recognize 13 of the 14 seniors currently listed on the official roster. Outside receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. is a senior in status, but the former junior-college transfer has played in just three games this season and will utilize a redshirt presuming he doesn’t appear in more than four.
A 14th player will be celebrated, too. The Cougars had always intended to recognize deceased quarterback Tyler Hilinski, a member of the 2019 senior class, and Hilinski’s parents, Mark and Kym, have been invited to Pullman to take part in the pregame festivities.
“Well, it’s our Senior Night, so Tyler’s a part of the class,” Leach said last week, “so we’ll celebrate Tyler being a part of the class, too.”
The other 13 seniors that’ll receive flower bouquets and framed jerseys Saturday evening include quarterbacks Anthony Gordon, Trey Tinsley and Gage Gubrud, wide receivers Easop Winston Jr., Dezmon Patmon and Brandon Arconado, offensive linemen Fred Mauigoa and Rob Valencia, defensive linemen Nnamdi Oguayo, Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei, Karson Block and Tristan Brock and cornerback Marcus Strong.
• Gordon has tripled up on the Pac-12’s Offensive Player of the Week honor. For the third time this season, Washington State’s redshirt senior quarterback was recognized by the league after completing 44 of 60 passes for 520 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception in the Cougars’ dominating 49-22 win over Stanford.