PLAYING LINEBACKER ISN'T LIKE playing cornerback. It's not as conducive to a true freshman contributing right away. In '05 and '06, Greg Trent, who has 19 starts his first two years, had safety nets on both sides in veterans Scott Davis and Steve Dildine. Now, it's Trent who is the linebacking corps' seasoned leader. A recent trip back home to Texas illustrates his commitment.
With football basically a year-round sport, Cougar players have just one extended break a year -- about four weeks between the end of spring semester and the start of voluntary summer workouts.
So while Trent, a third-year junior, was back on the homefront in Keller, about 40 miles north of Fort Worth, his mind was in Martin Stadium.
"I've got film here that I just watched," Trent told CF.C from his home in Keller a couple weeks before heading back to WSU. "I like to watch what I did wrong and not repeat the same mistakes. You've always got to make time for tape study. You have to learn and identify your own mistakes, not just by people telling you about them. I'm just staying focused."
That also means workouts and conditioning for Trent while "on break" back home.
"Every day -- and pretty much just like what we do back at school for summer training. I'm keeping it in rhythm," said Trent.
WITH DAVIS AND DILDINE having graduated, that leaves Trent, who has started at middle linebacker since Week 5 of his freshman campaign after Will Derting was injured, as the most experienced presence in Bill Doba's linebacking corps.
"It feels a little different because a lot of the veterans that were there when I was a freshman, they're not there any longer. But we're on the right path. Instead of me looking towards other people for leadership, people are looking towards me. And I think a lot of the other older players on the team feel the same way," said Trent.
Trent was a physical specimen even coming out of high school -- an extremely quiet physical specimen. He answered recruiting questions in a barely audible few words that winter. That, as they say, has most definitely changed.
"Greg Trent has become much more of a leader and a vocal leader, and he's playing well,' said Doba midway during spring ball. "When Trent says huddle up, they huddle up. And I would too."
THE STARTING LINEBACKERS on the Cougar post-spring depth chart have a uniquely southern flavor -- a WSU first. Cory Evans (Louisiana) and Jason Stripling (Texas) are on the outside of Trent (Texas) at the strong and weakside positions, respectively.
Evans finished this past season in WSU's top ten for tackles with 44 tackles (24 solo), with two sacks, six TFL and, speaking to his pass covering skills on the strongside where the TE lines up, three pass breakups and an interception. Stripling this spring was one of the big hitters on the Cougar D throwing his body around with reckless abandon.
Trent, Evans and Stripling were among nine true freshmen to see action in '05, and combined to play in 32 of 33 games that year. Last year, Stripling used a redshirt season to allow his surgically repaired shoulder to heal. Evans, meanwhile, saw extensive action in the box when the Cougs, having eventually lost their top three d-tackles to injury, went to a 3-4. Evans was lauded by Doba this spring for his leadership and Trent echoed the thought.
"I feel very comfortable with them," said Trent. "Cory Evans, he performed well last year. Me, Cory and Strip, we all came in at the same time and all got playing time. Cory works hard and is a great leader. Strip, he's hungry. You never see him without his motor running."
Spokane's Andy Mattingly is expected to get extended playing time as the Cougs' fourth linebacker. Alex Hamill, a redshirt junior out of Coeur d' Alene, has also made strides.
"Andy Mattingly, he came in at 230, and he's just a monster out there. He's still learning the basic techniques but he's going to be good coming up. Alex Hamill improved a lot. He knows his assignments, and he's playing like he wants it," said Trent.
WITH THE COUGS poised to go bowling at 6-3 last year, a three game slide meant they stayed home for the holidays. Trent says the roadmap for success going forward is clear.
"My personal goals reflect our team goals. I just want to accomplish one thing, winning, and do it working together. Not just for linebackers, but for football players, it's about doing the little things right," he said.
Great seats remain for the Cougars' Sept. 8 game vs. San Diego State at Seattle's Qwest Field. Call 1-800-GO-COUGS or go online at wsucougars.com to get tickets. Prices range from $7 to $50. Game time has yet to be determined.