PULLMAN — At the beginning of their Washington State football careers, they weren’t sure when they would see the field. Any real shot of playing time seemed a long way off.
By the end, linebackers Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers will have appeared in more contests in crimson and gray than any other Cougs in history.
Friday marked game No. 54 for both of them, tying the program’s career record set three years ago by former linebacker Peyton Pelluer.
It’s been a familiar sight since 2017: Woods lined up at his weakside post alongside Rogers, manning the middle.
“It’s crazy. I knew I played a lot, but I can’t believe it’s been that many games,” said Woods, also WSU’s all-time leader in starts (49). “I never thought I’d have a record that would hold so much weight.
“I never thought this day would come, to be honest. My last home game, it’s going to be something I’ll remember forever.”
The sixth-year Cougs were two of 14 players given a proper Palouse send-off Friday on senior night at Gesa Field. Woods was particularly bright as WSU drubbed Arizona 44-18 to lock up bowl eligibility.
It’ll be the fourth bowl game in which the tandem has appeared.
The WSU record for career games shared by Woods and Rogers will likely extend to 56 by season’s end. Presumably, it’s a record that will stand for years to come.
“I think the only way it’ll be broken again is if someone has played since their freshman year, and the Pac-12 extends the season,” Woods said. “Something crazy would have to happen. It’s going to be there for a long time.”
The duo has participated in every game for the Cougars’ defense this season and over the past four, including the four-game, coronavirus-affected campaign in 2020.
They opted to return for one last hurrah in 2021, an extra season granted by the NCAA in response to the pandemic’s disruptions a year ago.
“One day, I’m going to look back at these numbers, and it’s going to be a ‘wow’ moment,” said Rogers, who took a backup role to Pelluer in 2018 before sliding back into the starting lineup a year later. “Just the experiences I had here, the extra year, the people I’ve met, the connections.
“It’s weird. Because we had those extra couple of games in the COVID year, I’m not sure (the record) is fair or not.”
In any case, it should be a matter of pride for two players who came to Pullman without expectations of someday leaving as Cougar legends.
Woods recalls phoning his father at an early point of his redshirt freshman season in 2017. WSU’s linebacking room was stacked, featuring notables like Pelluer and Isaac Dotson, and Woods was an under-the-radar recruit. He said his lone Division I offer came from the Cougars.
“I don’t know. It might be a while till I play,” Woods told his dad. “I talked to him about maybe transferring to get a chance to play, but no, I’m just going to keep grinding, and it ended up working out.
“I knew I could compete at this level. I saw it was a golden opportunity to (come to WSU).”
Three games into the year, Pelluer suffered a season-ending injury, and Woods was forced into action.
In his second-career start, Woods broke out against No. 5 USC, forcing a game-clinching fumble on a sack.
The San Diego native has been a fixture in the Cougar defense ever since.
Rogers’ route into the record books was more complicated. He arrived here in spring 2016 as an early high-school graduate and a dual-threat quarterback recruit with “a lot of guys in front of me” at the position.
Two practices into fall camp, former coach Mike Leach sat Rogers down.
Although he hadn’t been a defender since the underclassmen stage of his prep career, Rogers figured playing on that side of the ball would give him the best chance to make an impact early on.
“I was a dual-threat, and it was the Air Raid,” he said. “I knew (defense) was an option. They recruited me as an athlete, and they were the only school to recruit me at quarterback. Leach shot it straight: I was going to get on the field faster on defense.”
Rogers worked as an outside linebacker and an edge-rusher, and took some practice reps at nickel before coaches moved him to middle linebacker, a spot that requires savvy.
“I get asked a lot, ‘If I would have opened my recruiting from quarterback to other positions, would I have (left)?’ ” Rogers said. “I don’t think so. I don’t see myself being anywhere else.”