This is the fourth of a week-long series of posts sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 11.
Jeff: This is such a tough one for me. Do I go with the superlative talent? If I go that direction, it has to be Ryan Leaf. The guy was a jerk to me and pretty much everyone else while at WSU (although it sounds like he's got things back on track), but for pure jaw-dropping ability, nobody else I ever watched in crimson and gray even comes close -- and that includes Jerome Harrison, who was amazing.
But since I had a lot of personal interactions with a lot of players in my role as reporter while at WSU, I can't view these guys in a vacuum. For that reason, I'm left with only one choice.
One of the most genuinely nice guys you'd ever want to meet, he was an absolute force up the middle on that 1997 defense. He'd candidly speak his mind on a variety of topics (a reporter's dream, and something that earned me a little "talking to" by Mike Price, but that's another story for another day) during the week, and then torment opposing offensive linemen on Saturdays. He was so good, he was drafted in the second round by the Oakland Raiders.
Five weeks later, he was dead. Truly one of the saddest stories I've ever experienced -- if anyone deserved to make it big, it was him.
"He was just a big kid who wanted to play football," said longtime league personnel director Ken Herock, part of the Raiders' scouting staff when the impressionable Bender was being evaluated. "Was he the most polished guy you had ever seen. No, he wasn't, not at all. But he wanted to be good. He wanted to please people. We knew, from talking to people at Washington State, that he was very coachable. And he was a hard worker, so, who can tell where all those things would have taken him?"
For me, it'll always be Bender.
Craig (Dancing Football): Lucky for me Nuss, I don't know many Cougar football players on a personal level so I can judge my favorites entirely on their performance on the field.
If I was going to choose my favorite by the most dominating player I've seen in my limited time as a Coug fan, it would easily be Jerome Harrison. I remember reading the Daily Evergreen's season preview for 2005 when Jerome said he would be disappointed with anything less than an 1800 yard season. I laughed and thought and said to anyone that would hear,"If he goes for 1800 this year, we will win the Pac-10." Of course, he actually ran for 1900!!! yards in only 11 games and we happily went to our third Rose Bowl in eight years. What's that? 4-7? Damn.
While I love Jerome just as much as the next Coug, I have to say there has never been a Coug I enjoyed watching more than Jed Collins. He wasn't the best player, he wasn't super-athletic, but he still managed to make many a highlight reel play. His trademark maneuver was to avoid the juke move all together and, to steal a phrase from our beloved sponsors, use the "truck stick." This resulted in many hilarious collisions with smaller defensive backs. He was an effective pass catcher out the tight end spot and our fullback for short yardage plays. He had badass long hair flowing out of his helmet. He was the complete "everyman" package and I loved every minute of it. I wasn't the only one that noticed his excellence, as he signed a free agent contract with Philadelphia.
The next year I met someone who, once discovering I was a Coug, told me she was dating a former WSU player that plays in Philadelphia. I knew it was Jed and it took all I had to keep myself from professing my undying admiration for her boyfriend. One of my good friends was interested in the girl and after hearing from me how Jed is one of the greatest human beings to walk the Earth, he may have become a bit discouraged. I don't feel bad though, because seriously dude, you're competing with an NFL player!
Anyways, Jed was the man. For me, it may not always be Jed, but for now it definitely is.
Grady: I loved watching Jed Collins, too. He's not my all-time favorite, but I'm about 90% sure he could headbutt a mountain and make it crumble. He is our Chuck Norris.
The one name that keeps coming up in my mind when discussing this topic is Jerome Harrison. The highlight of this past NFL season for me was The Ghost - out of nowhere - completely messing up everyone's fantasy league for a couple of weeks with the Browns. Jerome was always a surprise at WSU - he ran with the kind of consistency you'd expect from a high school All-American, not a junior college transfer. At his best he was unstoppable, and at his worst he was still better than any other Cougar running back this decade. His moves were fluid; his ability to burst through holes was always jaw-dropping. Harrison, at pass-happy Wazzu, became a solid Heisman candidate as a running back. Imagine that.
In football, there are your leaders, your intimadators, and your specialists. You know the guys. The ones that sit in the corner all practice and kick a football around, perhaps running a few laps intermittently. My favorite player was one of these specialists. He showed up at the tail end of the golden years (2001-2003) and introduced himself with some booming punts. His real "hello world" moment came the first time he de-cleated a return man, putting everyone on notice that he wasn't the typical punter.
Kyle Basler turned what was ordinary a sad time -- 4th down and a change of possession -- into an adventure that put everyone on the edge of their seats. Watching him head hunt players and look for contact was a pleasure to watch, and something that seemed so out of the norm. It's just not common for a punter to unleash a booming punt, then chase it down the field trying to knock the return man out of his shoes.
We all love the big names of Cougar football and they all hold special places in our heart. To me, Basler's ability to make punting exciting -- in a good way -- made him my favorite Cougar player.