This is the final installment in a series where we highlighted the 2012 Kathi Goertzen Coug of the Year nominees.
Part of the problem with playing for a truly terrible team of any sort is no one really remembers you. After all, why would anyone bother to pay attention to a team that isn't doing well and causes them nothing but heartache and consternation? Does anyone remember Rich Aurilia and Jolbert Cabrera played for the 2004 version of the Seattle Mariners? Of course not, that team was terrible. Hell, I forgot about Aurilia until I looked it up on Baseball Reference and I still don't even know who Jolbert Cabrera is.
Sometimes, even the truly excellent players from those teams are forgotten. Ichiro Suzuki was on the team and I didn't remember this was Edgar Martinez's final season (by the by, in his final season at age 41 he hit .263/..342/.385 with 12 home runs and 63 runs batted in. Seriously just put the guy in the Hall of Fame). At some point, many years in the future, people may forget about Travis Long's career at Washington State. When you play on four teams that combine for fewer wins than every team who finished in the BCS top 10 this year and then some, it's easy to forget who was on those teams.
This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the last few years at WSU. Some of the worst football in program history was played when one of the most talented and dedicated defensive players in recent years came through.
Long had his options to go elsewhere. He was offered scholarships to go to schools who had slightly more success than WSU. But instead of playing for the Oregon St. Beavers or Boise St. Broncos (like I said, a little better), the former Gonzaga Prep star made his way down Highway 195 to play for the Cougars. Long came in and played right away as a freshman, quickly emerging as the star on an otherwise punchless defense. After playing defensive end for three years, Long embraced his move to BUCK linebacker this season and seemed to never miss a beat, showing just how much talent the guy has.
By his nature, Long was a quiet guy. Whenever I had an opportunity to interview him, trying to get him to speak up was like pulling teeth. On the field though, he gave his everything on each and every play, trying to maul his way to the ball carrier and drop them like a sack of potatoes. Over four seasons, he tallied 201 tackles, 42 tackles and 20.5 sacks and while that may not sound impressive, consider he was normally the soul focus of opponents offensive lines when it came to run and pass blocking.
Most incredible of all though was the fact that Long never missed a game. Through four years off shedding blood and sweat for Washington State, Long had appeared in every game.
That is, until the 2012 Apple Cup. Long had never won an Apple Cup while at WSU and this would be his final opportunity. But he wouldn't be able to help the Cougars because of a torn ACL. This was patiently unfair. Not only would Long miss the final game of his career at Washington State, his draft status could be effected. The guy who had given everything he had to this school for the last four years and asked for nothing in return had potentially lost out on a head start to a professional career. Apple Cup win be damned, the guy's future is now in danger.
When the Cougars came back from 18 points down and beat the No. 25 Washington Huskies, the first thing one Long's teammates did was run into the locker room and grab his jersey to be present at the trophy presentation. After the game, this picture popped up on Long's Twitter. If it got a little dusty in your immediate vicinity when you saw that I wouldn't blame you.
Long sacrificed an awful lot for this university and this football program. My only hope is that unlike Edgar Martinez's final season, Travis Long is never forgotten for his contributions.
Congratulations to Travis Long for being a finalist for the 2012 Kathi Goertzen Coug of the Year award.
Note: Voting for the 2012 Kathi Goertzen Coug of the Year begins on Monday morning at 8 a.m. and runs until 8 p.m. Tuesday night.