The Best Job

Jason Gesser and Paul Counts

AS DREW DUNNING walked onto the field to attempt the game-winning kick in overtime against USC last season, I knew right there that being a ball boy for the Washington State Cougars is quite possibly the best job in America.

The deafening roar of 40,000 Cougars on the field level is awesome! The intensity of college football up close and personal, the sound of crashing pads, the grunts from players struggling for every yard, the coaches critiques, the feel of the pigskin, the field reporters for the major networks, the band, the crowd…all of these are reasons standing on the sideline is an experience of a lifetime. And these aren't just any old sidelines I stand on--these are the sidelines of Martin Stadium!

 

During the past three seasons as a WSU ball boy, I've had many amazing experiences. Here are some of the most vivid ones in my mind:

November 1, 2001 UCLA vs. WSU - The UCLA coaching staff was using their wired headsets to communicate with their coaches upstairs. In the fourth quarter, with WSU up by a few points, UCLA needed a score. I was throwing the ball into a Pac-10 official, and I happened to get tangled up with one of the Bruin coaches' headset. With neither of us realizing this, we both turned and walked our separate ways, but when I looked back I saw the coach's head set jerked off his head, causing the mouth piece he was talking into to go into his mouth and gag him. After a few choice words aimed my way, I apologized. It just so happens that on the very next play the UCLA quarterback threw his third interception to Lamont Thompson. The Cougars went on to win the game 20-14. I like to think that moment of miscommunication could've caused the pick!

August 31, 2002 Nevada vs. WSU (Seahawk Stadium) – Cougar linebacker Will Derting picked off his third pass of the game and sprinted up the sidelines for a 98-yard touchdown. I chased him all the way up the sidelines so I would have a ball ready for the extra point once the official got there. In Sunday's Seattle Times newspaper there was a picture of Derting running up the sidelines, with me in the background running right with him!

November 23, 2002 Washington vs. WSU (Apple Cup) - Out of the blue, UW coach Rick Neuheisel swore at us ball-boys, telling us we had better keep the footballs dry and throw in the correct football. To go along with his verbal abuse, Husky QB Cody Pickett was also attacking us, upset because he felt that the footballs were wet. Finally, a UW equipment man stepped in and proved they were dry as a bone. After that he was upset because he said he preferred his footballs wetter, so we could not keep him happy. It was very hard to work next to a team that complained so needlessly to us ball boys.

 

October 5, 2002 USC vs. WSU - In the third quarter Jason Gesser was hit out of bounds, sending him into the sidelines like a torpedo. I was right in his trajectory and was knocked back a ways. I did make it on National TV several times with the replay. I was not really in too much pain, but I was more concerned I had re-injured Gesser's ribs with my elbow!

January 1, 2003 Oklahoma vs. WSU (Rose Bowl) - Working for WSU with my Cougar hat on the Oklahoma sideline I got trash talk from Sooners the entire game. Following a score they'd make a point to tell me they just scored a touchdown, picked up a first down, etc. It was kind of fun to get trash talk from the opposing team because that doesn't happen in your living room.

November 23, 2002 Washington vs. WSU (Apple Cup) - In the fourth quarter with WSU leading 20-10, Gesser was tackled from behind and fell violently on his ankle, putting him out for the rest of the game. It would turn out to be a high ankle sprain. As he was hobbling painfully off the field, the UW sideline was abuzz with phrases like: "We got him! We have them now! Great job! Way to get him out of the game!" I was shocked to hear a team celebrating over another player's injury, but why should we expect decency from the Huskies?

October 5, 2002 USC vs. WSU - WSU stepped up and knocked USC back far enough to force a 52-yard field goal attempt, which went wide right. The whole USC sideline just stood there in absolute disbelief. When WSU went to kick the game-winning field goal I told the other ballboys to get the balls in the bag and to protect them from the Cougar fans storming the field. When that kick went through the uprights I forgot about being neutral and began jumping up and down and yelling because the Cougars had just beat USC! The field was swamped with thousands of WSU fans, and they wanted a football, so we had to really protect them, which we did successfully.

I've been fortunate to get to know so many great people associated with WSU. One particular player who has bee
n real kind and gracious to me is Drew Dunning. He takes time to talk to me some before and after games, and also after practices I attend. Offensive lineman Steve Nelson is an amazing person and a lot of fun to chat with. Jason Gesser, Scott Lunde, and so many other Cougs of the past and present have really been extremely gracious to me. Every single WSU Coach has gone out of their way showing me kindness. Rod Commons in Sports Information, Bob Robertson, and Glenn Johnson have all been tremendous to me. Mike McGinnis, is an incredible person and quite possibly the best line judge in college football. There have been countless other people at WSU who've been incredibly gracious to me during my tenure as a ball boy.

I can't wait to get back to my "best job in America" on the sidelines of Martin Stadium and experience more Cougar football from the best seats in the house.

 

Editor's note: Paul Counts is a senior at Prescott (population 300) High School. He comes from a family of rabid Cougfans and his three older brothers either attended or are currently attending WSU. Paul is known as a renaissance man in his neck of the woods. In addition to his work for WSU, he is Student Body President, a sportswriter for the Valley Times Newspaper (Walla Walla), and a sales representative for Cuda Apparel-Vyper Sportswear out of Spokane. He plans to attend WSU and double-major in Sports Management and Broadcasting, with hopes to have a career in athletics.
 

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