The senior has waited a long time to earn a starting position, and seems primed for a big season.
Name a position, and Nick Begg has probably played it for Washington State.
He has been a running back, a receiver, an offensive lineman and a defensive end.
But finally, Begg has found a home, at defensive tackle, where he will be counted on to help replace some of the massive production the team lost when All-American Hercules Mata’afa declared early for the NFL draft.
Begg, a sixth-year senior, is recognized as one of the team leaders and will try to cause havoc in the Wyoming backfield when Washington State opens its season Saturday against the Cowboys in Laramie, Wyo.
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Begg was unstoppable in WSU’s spring game, registering four sacks, and followed that with a good fall camp. Finally, after years of waiting, he is set to be a starter. His patience has paid off.
“I was very patient in high school, too,” he said. “We had a really good high-school program and I didn’t start until my senior year. … I dealt with it before, and I was able to do it again. You just have to be mentally strong and understand that your time is going to come.”
Begg, who played with teammate Kyle Sweet at Santa Margarita (Calif.) High School, originally planned on playing at Arizona State and was going to “grayshirt” by delaying his enrollment until after the season.
But Begg said there were some coaching changes that caused him to change his mind about ASU, and he came to Washington State to visit his best friend from high school, River Cracraft, a receiver for the Cougars.
“We talked about playing together, so I came up to visit him on his birthday and ended up coming here,” he said.
The Cougars were happy to have him, but weren’t quite sure where to put the 6-foot-5, 253-pound Begg (now listed at 265 pounds).
“We’re kind of curious what the future holds as far as where he ends up,” coach Mike Leach told the Spokesman-Review in the summer of 2014 when Begg was a freshman. “But those guys that are as tall as him, run as well as he does, long arms, they have a funny way of always finding a place.”
It just took awhile.
He played defensive end in high school, but WSU put him at inside receiver to start.
“The blocking came easy but the routes and stuff – I quickly learned that that wasn’t for me,” he said. “I was a little bit too big for that. I got experience all around the field and it’s a good thing.”
He moved to fullback, then to the offensive line and was a defensive end as a sophomore. Begg was making his way up the depth chart, but at the start of fall camp last year he saw his name as a third-string defensive tackle.
“I was like ‘What? D tackle?’ ” he said. “But I just embraced it, and it worked out. So I am rolling with it. I enjoy being on the inside. Everything happens faster and it’s a quicker route to the quarterback than coming off the edge.”
When Mata’afa, who had 10.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss last year, was ejected against Washington, Begg came in and got his first career sack. He wants a lot more, but will have to beat linemen with his quickness as he is undersized at his position.
“I am not looking to go into a big O-lineman – that’s not what I am built for,” Begg said. “I am built to hit gaps, penetrate and get into the backfield. I just got to be quick and be good with my hands. I watched Hercules a lot last year, and he wasn’t the biggest defensive tackle ¬ but he maneuvered and found ways to be quicker than the O-linemen to get through gaps.”
Begg and linebacker Peyton Pelluer, granted a sixth year of eligibility, are recognized as the leaders of the defense. It’s a role Begg is happy to fill.
“We’re the oldest guys and we’ve seen the most,” Begg said of he and Pelluer. “We have been around the longest, around coach Leach the longest. We just know how everything runs around here and we’ve seen everything. We’ve learned from all these guys ahead of us, and all the leadership they provided for us and now we are able to provide it for the younger guys.”
Begg said moving to Pullman after living in big cities was a tough transition, but he has grown to love the small college town.
“I didn’t know how to handle being in such a small town, and then, I started to really embrace it and got to know everyone,” he said. “It’s so fun and it’s such a good time. Everyone is so friendly and everyone loves the Cougs.”
Now he wants to finish his WSU career in style, starting with Saturday’s season opener. There is no relaxing now that he is starter.
“When you are starting, you have the pressure to set the standard, and you have to earn that job every day,” he said. “You’ve got to set the example for the rest of the D-line every day. You have to make sure that you are outperforming everyone else, and you can’t have any lapses in judgment or effort or anything.”