SOMETIME THIS SUMMER, Andy Mattingly played golf with former Cougar defensive backs Hamza and Husain Abdullah at Palouse Ridge, the new course on the WSU campus. Until speaking to Mattingly on the phone this week, I had never heard anyone say anything but nice things about Palouse Ridge, which is generally considered one of the finest new layouts in the country.
Mattingly has a different view.
“I’ll never play that place again,” the Cougar linebacker said. “I paid $40 to play, and I probably spent another $20 on golf balls (that he lost). Now I’ve got to buy more golf balls.”
Though Palouse Ridge has mostly generous fairways, when you’re a golf newbie like Mattingly is, you can spray it into spots where the white dimples are un-findable. Mattingly grew so frustrated that he broke two irons during his round.
Golf is usually more fun than this. He took it up last year after being persuaded to give it a try by a golfer named Joe Laberge. Mattingly was pounding fence posts at Laberge’s horse ranch. Laberge would soon become Mattingly’s 72-year-old friend and playing partner.
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Mattingly sounds like he’s a decent stick, shooting rounds in the low 80s at Deer Park near Spokane. He also loves to play at Spokane Country Club but doesn’t score as well there. He can drive it a mile but says he needs to work on his touch around the greens.
Golf has become his passion, but it’s just like football, a game of constant adjustments, taking the good with the bad, learning to deal with adverse circumstances and moving on.
That’s a weak attempt at transitioning to the rest of the story, the more important part about Mattingly the football player, the former sack machine, the one we all hope can be a difference-maker again.
One of the few good things about the P-I going out of business and forcing me to be a free-lance writer is not having to pretend that I’m a professional journalist with ethics and standards. For instance, when I used to interview Cougs, I interviewed them like I interviewed everyone else – objectively and very straight-forward with my questions.
But now it’s like, the hell with that, I don’t have a newspaper editor to answer to or a publication that I represent anymore, so I tell these players how I really feel and who I really am, an alum who was miserable watching them last year and rooting hard for them to be competitive again.
I told Mattingly, more than anything, I want him to be that guy that he was in 2007, the one who made plays all over the place, especially behind the line of scrimmage. He had eight sacks and four forced fumbles as a sophomore -- totals that made me believe he was going to be the next Will Derting.
“Think you can be a sack machine again?” I asked.
“Yeah, definitely,” Mattingly said. “I really have a great feeling about this year. Coach (Chris) Ball is doing some stuff to help get me around the quarterback.”
Mattingly, as you know, switched from linebacker to defensive end last year because the Cougs were short on linemen. He was also over 250 pounds and while there has never been a concern on Mattingly's straight ahead speed, lateral movement was a question mark at times. He didn’t want to make the move but did it for the supposedly greater good.
“Being a team player, you have to do a position change because the team needs you there,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, we needed d-linemen. I tried my best, but I never got real comfortable playing that position.”
During the offseason, the coaching staff told him he would return to outside linebacker for his senior year.
“I smiled, I was happy,” Mattingly said. “I’m back at linebacker where I feel real comfortable.”
Now last year’s experience will help him this year. He learned the linemen’s pass-rush moves and has a better idea of where the open gaps will be, gaps that could be lanes to an unsuspecting quarterback.
Mattingly will talk at length about the season ahead, but he’s reluctant to discuss the past. He understandably clammed up when I asked him what he learned from the incident two years ago when he struck a North Idaho College soccer player with a frying pan.
“It’s a stupid situation I got myself into, I don’t even like to comment about it,” he said. “It’s not who I am at all. It’s one time I’ve been in trouble, the only time. It never happened before, it will never happen again.”
And last season? Does anyone want to talk about that anymore? Neither does Mattingly.
“We’re moving in a positive direction now,” he said. “We’re all buying in to what Coach (Paul) Wulff is expecting us to do. It’s another year with people understanding the schemes.
“I’ll tell you right now, our defense is looking pretty solid as a group. I would put my money on it – which isn’t very much – that our defense is going to be a lot better this year.”
Mattingly looks for a return of some Cougar swagger, saying: “We know we can compete, we know we’re a good team, we’re all Division I Pac-10 athletes. I know this year is going to be different.”
To be honest, a bowl game sounds preposterous, but Mattingly said: “That’s our goal. Nothing’s too much to ask for. If we all go 100 percent all the time, we’ll do fine.”