Travis Long, simply put, is one tough hombre. Long proved as much two years ago when he started all season at defensive end for Washington State as an undersized true freshman and led the Cougars in tackles for loss and quarterback sacks.
Long increased both numbers last year and again led the Cougars. He did so with a badly torn labrum that required surgery after he played the entire season with a brace on his left shoulder.
“His shoulder was popping out all the time,” defensive coordinator Chris Ball recalls. “He played through it. He basically played with one arm most of the season.”
“Last year was so, so miserable,” Long says. “This year, it’s so much better.”
But despite the pain, the former Gonzaga Prep standout still registered 51 tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss and five quarterback sacks.
WSU’s defense ranked among the nation’s worst in 2009 and 2010, but Long earned honorable mention in the Pacific-10 Conference both seasons. The Cougars have moved up to the middle of the pack in a number of national defensive stats this season, and Long has helped the cause.
Former Washington State University quarterback Ryan Leaf will be at Auntie’s Bookstore on Sun, Oct. 16 from 1 to 3 pm to sign copies of his new memoir, 596 Switch: The Improbable Journey from the Palouse to Pasadena. It covers the four years from when Leaf decided to attend WSU to the Cougars’ Rose Bowl appearance in 1998. The book is one of three that Leaf has agreed to write for Crimson Oak Publishing. The others will address the challenges of life in the public eye and his personal demons since retiring from a once-promising pro career at age 26, including his battle with an addiction to prescription painkillers.
“He’s a very, very hard worker,” Ball says. “He plays extremely hard, and he’s smart.”
Todd Howard agrees. Howard, a former NFL linebacker and assistant coach, is in his first year as Washington State’s defensive line coach. “Travis is a good athlete,” he says. “He has good football awareness he gets it.”
Long “gets” plenty of quarterbacks smashed into the turf. The 6-foot-4, 256-pound junior has impressive quickness.
“Coach Howard, he’s been able to help me out a lot on my pass rush,” Long says. “I definitely think it’s a realistic goal to get double-digit sacks.”
Long, who rents a house in Pullman with four teammates from Spokane, says improved defense is one reason why the Cougars have a legitimate chance to play in a bowl game for the first time since 2003.
Long knew the Cougars were in a rebuilding mode when he chose WSU over several suitors, including national powerhouse Boise State.
“Just hanging out with the guys that were there [at BSU], I just didn’t feel the same connection as when I came here,” Long says. “Just the whole atmosphere here.”
Ball says Long’s presence has improved the atmosphere at WSU.
“He’s not a big talker,” Ball says. “He leads by example.
“But when he does talk when he talks to the team and he does raise his voice and gets on the guys people listen, because he’s got a lot of respect. They really, really respect him.”
Colorado players certainly gained respect for Long after he manhandled the Buffaloes two weeks ago in WSU’s Pac-12 opener.
Long flew around the field all afternoon, blocked a field goal and made a career-high eight tackles. The Cougars scored twice in the final three minutes to win, 31-27.
“Travis had a heck of a game,” Head Coach Paul Wulff says. “His effort and intensity shows up all over the film [game tape].”
The Cougars like to think the dramatic victory will lead to bigger and better wins in the future.
“We’ve taken a step in the right direction,” Wulff says.
“We’ve notched something in our belt. We’ve proved we can win on the
Washington State Homecoming game versus Stanford Sat, Oct. 15 at 4:30 pm Versus TV and KXLY 920 broadcast the game from WSU’s Martin Stadium For tickets, visit wsucougars.com or call (800) GO-COUGS