PULLMAN – Four years ago, Travis Long turned down powerful Boise State to play football for struggling Washington State.
Jeff Choate and plenty of other folks probably thought Long was a little bit nuts at the time. Of course, Choate is now certain that Long made a brilliant decision, because Choate left Boise State this winter to coach linebackers at WSU.
“There’s probably not one player that we didn’t get in the last six years while I was at Boise that we wanted as bad as Travis Long,” Choate said. “He wanted to be a Coug, and that was just the way it was going to be.”
Long, a three-year starter at defensive end, has provided many of the relatively few highlights the Cougars have experienced during three lean seasons. WSU coaches like to think Long’s best highlights are a few months away as they train him to be their “buck” linebacker, a hybrid position that mixes defensive end and outside linebacker responsibilities.
“That’s the position we had in mind for him at Boise State,” Choate said.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Long said. “I’ve just got the learning curve still going.”
Long, a strong pass rusher, played outside linebacker as a sophomore and junior at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep before moving to defensive end as a senior. The Cougars are switching from a 4-3 defense to 3-4 look.
“What Travis possesses is a lot of athleticism, a lot of leadership,” new defensive coordinator Mike Breske said.
Breske loves to blitz, and he envisions Long blitzing from a variety of angles.
“We’re going to blitz him, line stunt him,” Breske said. “We’re going to drop him in (pass) coverage … we’ll move him around. He’s a guy that could end up at inside linebacker (at times).”
The 6-foot-4 Long said he’s dropped about 6 pounds from last year’s listed 256. Asked if he lost weight to gain speed to play linebacker, Long smiled.
“We kinda ran a lot during winter conditioning,” he deadpanned.
WSU players said they ran far more this winter than ever before after new coach Mike Leach warned them that they’ll be running constantly at practice.
Breske and Choate are just two of the fiery assistant coaches who have made their approval and displeasure known loud and clear in spring practices.
“I love their energy,” Long said. “It brings a little more out of you.”
Long said he hopes it will “add to my worth” to show NFL scouts he can play defensive end or outside linebacker.
Long’s speed and mobility in open space have been impressive this spring.
“I’m a little lighter,” he said. “I kind of ‘leaned out’ a little bit. I feel a lot stronger and still feel fast.”
“He’s a tremendous young man, a tremendous player, a good leader,” Choate said.
Choate, like Leach, is a colorful sort who likes to tell stories to get a point across. Choate had an interesting way of describing how important it is for players to be consistent with their play, effort and focus.
“If you show up one day for work and you’ve got your Starbucks and everything’s groovy, everyone knows what to expect,” Choate said. “You don’t have to worry about it.
“The next day, you get up a little late, didn’t have time to get your coffee, you’re kinda grumpy. Well, no one wants to be around you. Everyone wants to work with that guy that gets his coffee on time every day.”
Coffee isn’t the only thing Choate wants at Washington State.
“I didn’t come here to lose ballgames,” he growled. “I came here to win championships.”