Tony Thompson, the son of legendary Washington State quarterback Jack Thompson, plays tight end for the Cougars.
That did nothing to prevent the younger Thompson from delivering a mean impersonation – in more ways than one – of his rocket-armed father when he was a 6-year-old spectator at the 1992 “Snow Bowl” Apple Cup in Pullman.
“Unfortunately,” Thompson recalled, “I was a little immature and I was throwing snow balls at the Huskies as they came out.”
Yeah, the man said, “unfortunately.” The look in his eye told a different story.
Thompson, a fifth-year senior, worked his way up from walk-on to starter at Washington State. His career came to a premature end Oct. 31 when he suffered his fifth concussion in college during the game with Notre Dame.
“It does break my heart, because I do want real badly to play against the Huskies,” Thompson said. “But I understand that it’s a better decision for my overall health.”
Thompson, who regularly attended Apple Cups with his father while growing up in Seattle, said his “single best memory” of Apple Cups past took place last year. He got knocked out of the game with his second concussion of the year, but he joined the on-field celebration after Nico Grasu’s field goal in the second overtime gave the Cougars a 16-13 win.
“I couldn’t watch Nico’s game-winning field goal because I was too nervous,” Thompson said. “So I looked at the crowd, and I knew we had won by the crowd’s reaction.”
Thompson graduates next month with a general studies degree. He hopes to stay connected with the school, possibly as an intern with the Gray “W” Club, an organization that works to enhance the WSU experience for current and former athletes.
Lopina to start
Coach Paul Wulff removed all doubt about WSU’s starting quarterback for Saturday’s Apple Cup when he said Tuesday that senior Kevin Lopina “definitely” will start.
Lopina took the majority of the snaps with the No. 1 offense at practice Tuesday.
Wulff expressed far more pessimism about the chances of Jeff Tuel playing than he had Monday after Tuel resumed practicing for the first time since he went down with a knee injury Nov. 7 at Arizona.
Wulff said the Cougars won’t play Tuel unless they are certain he faces no undue risk of aggravating his injury.
“He’s not 100 percent and I don’t know that he will be by game day,” Wulff said.
Lopina started the first two games, then rode the bench until playing most of the UCLA game Nov. 14. He played the entire game on Saturday against Oregon State.
In 13 career games (11 starts) at WSU, Lopina has thrown 13 interceptions and two touchdown passes. Tuel, a true freshman, has six TD passes and five interceptions in six games (five starts).
Back at right time
Huskies junior defensive end Cameron Elisara admitted he got winded in practice Tuesday. But he said it felt good to be preparing for the Apple Cup and his return to action after missing 31/2 games with a neck stinger.
“This is a good week to be back,” Elisara said. “... It does have, of course, a special meaning. I’ve got a lot of family ties, a lot of friends that go to Wazzu. This is a game for a lot of bragging rights.”
Elisara’s father, Matt, was an all-conference lineman as a Washington State senior in 1981.
And Cameron Elisara remembers regularly driving with his family from their home in Spokane to attend WSU games.
“I grew up in Cougar country, I grew up as a Cougar fan,” he said.
“I was a Cougar until I started thinking about places where I was going to go play.”
Elisara said WSU didn’t recruit him very hard, and said the disinterest might have been mutual. He said he’s happy that he became a Husky, and he’s eager to help his teammates reclaim the bragging rights they have lived without for back-to-back seasons.
“It was pretty rough: going back to Spokane, hearing it from all my friends who go to Wazzu,” Elisara said. “Just the loss itself is the troubling part. We never like any of those, especially against a big-time rival.”
The won-loss record and statistics aren’t much different from a year ago, but Wulff and assistant head coach/co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Chris Ball continue to maintain that the 1-10 Cougars of 2009 are better than the 2-11 Cougars of 2008.
“We always said if we got injuries we’d be in trouble,” Ball said. “We said we’d be better, but we didn’t really know how many wins that would calculate to.”
According to the WSU football media guide, the Cougars tied a school record by playing five ranked teams this year. Three other opponents have been ranked at some point during the season.
The Cougars dressed only 13 scholarship players on defense on Saturday – including senior end Jesse Feagin, who chose not to play with his broken hand in a cast – and there was very little substituting in the 42-10 loss to Oregon State. The Cougars trailed 21-10 late in the third quarter before tiring.
“You’ve just got to hand it to the players,” Ball said. “They mentally prepared themselves for a bunch of snaps. The coaches did a great job of preparing them for it.
“They (the players) didn’t flinch at all. There wasn’t anyone trying to get out of there. There wasn’t anybody with their hands on their knees.”
Asked if he expects defensive players to take on a similar workload Saturday, Ball said, “I think so. They sort of fed off it, being able to take all the snaps.
“I was really impressed just with the way they prepared themselves for it. That’s hard to do, especially on the defensive line. They’re banging every snap.”
Another Husky with Cougar connections is defensive line coach Johnny Nansen, who played at WSU and graduated in 1997. He said his friends from the Palouse have left him alone this week. “None of them have called me for tickets or anything,” he said. “They understand this is all business for me right now.” ... Freshman cornerback Desmond Trufant of Tacoma stood up for teammate Kavario Middleton of Lakewood, who is off-limits to the media this week after saying the Huskies would try to score 50 points against WSU. “He’s just being confident,” Trufant said. “Everybody wants to win because everybody still has that feeling from the loss last year. He’s just being a confident player.”
New Tribune staff writer Don Ruiz contributed to this report.