by Howie Stalwick
Will Derting, simply put, is The Perfect Coug. And it has nothing to do with his three interceptions in Washington State's first football game of the year. No, The Perfect Coug is a unique blend of underdog and overachiever. Of heart and soul, of dreams come true, of young men who come out of nowhere to find fame and glory playing big-time college football amid the golden wheat fields of tiny, isolated Pullman.
Derting's hometown of Okanogan, Wash., (pop. 2,400) is not exactly nowhere, but it's pretty close. Okanogan, as the old line goes, is located just past the "Resume Speed" sign in North-Central Washington.
It would be storybook enough if Derting grew up in Okanogan, but he was raised on a cattle ranch so far south of town that the family has never had phone service. Not even cellular. (We pause now for the gasps of horrified teen-agers.)
"But," Derting is quick to add, "my aunt and uncle have a phone, and they only live a couple miles away."
This is a kid whose parents dutifully drove him 30 minutes into town for various sports activities; who played high school football, basketball and baseball in something called the Caribou Trail League; who honed his football skills playing before maybe 500 fans on frozen Friday nights against tiny high schools like Brewster, Tonasket and Liberty Bell.
"A lot of people were outside the fences in pickups," Derting points out.
Derting was hardly a blue-chip recruit -- but he was a blue-ribbon winner at county fairs. Yessir, we're talking two-time grand champion in beef fitting and showing, baby. Just let Miami and Penn State recruits try to top that.
"It's how well you show your steer," explains Derting, as if everybody doesn't know all about beef fitting and showing. "How it stands; you've got to have the feet together. You've gotta shampoo 'em, get the dirt out of 'em, shampoo 'em -- it's a lot of work."
Well, it can't be any more difficult than convincing a Pac-10 football program to grant him a scholarship, even if he was the finest linebacker in that renowned football factory known as the Caribou Trail League. Derting rewarded the Cougar coaching staff's faith in him by cracking the starting lineup against Idaho in the second game this season. He suffered an ankle sprain in the game and has missed WSU's last two games, but he hopes to return to action Saturday when the 16th-ranked Cougars open the Pacific-10 Conference season at California.
"I didn't know where I could play [in college]," says Derting, the latest in a long line of Dertings to attend Washington State. "I always wanted to come to WSU, so I came to their football camp to see how I compared with the players there.
"It surprised the crap out of me when they offered me a scholarship. I accepted it right there."
One year later, Derting "surprised the crap" out of Cougar coaches by making the team as a freshman last season. Of course, that was only after Derting survived grueling months of workouts back home ("with cousin Katie") and stopped getting lost in Pullman ("We don't have one-way streets in Okanogan").
Derting promptly blew out a knee in last year's opening game and was forced to sit out the rest of the season. The 6-foot, 230-pound outside linebacker was able to retain freshman eligibility, and he made up for lost time Aug. 31 by making three interceptions versus Nevada before nearly 64,000 fans at Seahawks Stadium -- and running one back 98 yards for the longest touchdown return in school history.
"He can do that every week," boasts Okanogan High football coach Denny Neely.
"He's got really good speed," Cougar coach Mike Price agrees. "Must be from chasing rabbits up there or something."
Nah, Derting says, it's not the rabbits.
"My Mom always pumped a lot of milk in me," Derting explains, "so my bones are strong."
Spoken like The Perfect Coug.
The Cougs play at Cal on Saturday, then return to Pullman
on Oct. 5 at 2 pm for a showdown with the USC Trojans.
Tickets: $15-$25. Call 800-GO-COUGS.