PULLMAN — It doesn’t matter to Daniel Isom if the player running at him with the ball is 175 pounds or 275 pounds.
Sure, Isom might be 50 or more pounds lighter than the oncoming opponent, but there is no fear, just resolve for Washington State’s senior safety. And that helped him lead WSU in tackles last season, with 32 in the team’s four games.
“I enjoy tackling; it’s part of the game,” said Isom, a sixth-year senior who at 6 feet, 194 pounds, is always one of the lightest players on the field. “It’s something you’ve got to do to win. You’ve got to hit him. You’ve got no choice, you’ve got to get him down to the ground.
“I take pride in being a good teammate and doing everything I can for the team and not putting myself above the team. I just want to do anything, whether it’s tackling or covering (a receiver), and if they need me to pass out water, I will pass out water.”
There is no doubt that Isom’s enthusiasm is sincere. He said he appreciates the game much more after it was taken away from him as a redshirt junior. Then-coach Mike Leach dismissed Isom from the team late in the 2019 season.
“I had a lot of time to reflect when I was gone, pretty much working at the carwash — no football and focusing on graduation,” said Isom, who has not discussed the reasons for his dismissal.
Leach left after the 2019 season, and Nick Rolovich took over. Isom sought another chance.
“I reached out to Rolo, feeling like I could still be useful to the team, and he reached back and gave me another opportunity,” Isom said.
It paid off for player and the team, with Isom starting all four games at free safety.
“I just talked to Rolo about it yesterday, actually, just saying how thankful I was to get that opportunity,” Isom said earlier in training camp.
Isom grew up in St. Louis, with a well-known name in the city — father Daniel Isom was the St. Louis police chief while the younger Daniel was in high school and is now the interim director of public safety.
“I guess there was a little more pressure (being the police chief’s son), but I stayed out of trouble anyway,” Isom said.
Isom was a three-star recruit out of St. Louis University High School, where he finished second in the state in the 110- and 300-meter high hurdles, and signed with Northern Illinois. He had 41 tackles and six pass breakups, but then redshirted the next season after hurting his knee.
Isom transferred to Iowa Western Community College for his redshirt sophomore season, catching the attention of WSU with a fine season there.
He started games at strong safety and cornerback as a redshirt junior with WSU, and had 11 tackles against Utah. Then came his dismissal, and later a new start. But this time at free safety, where he started four games. He is back at strong saftey this season.
“I’ve always seen myself as a corner because I love to cover (receivers) and I think it’s one of the best parts of my game,” he said. “But I would like to do whatever it is to help the team, whether it’s playing corner, free safety, strong safety — wherever you need me, I want to fill that role.”
Isom said playing different positions has made him a more well-rounded player.
“At corner, you are generally more focused on covering … but when you play safety you have to know what the D-line does and what the linebackers do because you have different run fits and different zone responsibilities,” he said.
Isom, who finished his degree in social sciences last spring and is now working toward a second degree, took advantage of the extra year of eligibility that was granted because of the pandemic.
He is confident the Cougars defensive backfield and defense will be much better than last season, when it ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in points and yards allowed.
“I think we have a lot going in this backfield,” he said. “We come with great energy and I love seeing the corners flying around and talking (trash) to the wide receivers. I think we got a really high ceiling this year.”
The Cougars were at a disadvantage last season, trying to learn new defensive coordinator Jake Dickert’s system with limited time to prepare because of the pandemic.
“I can just see how much it is helping us, having more time in camp this year to develop and understand each other and have much better communication,” he said. “… I think it will be a great defense this year. We have a lot of returning talent, a lot of young talent and great coaches. It’s all about being a unit and getting us all together.”