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UNIT3D guest column: The story of Coug fan Mark Billington

NCAA Football: Washington State at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Back in August, we launched a campaign with our friends at called UNIT3D for Hilinski’s Hope. The centerpiece of the fundraiser, which raised more than $13,000 for the Hilinski’s Hope foundation, was some apparel*; however, there also was an opportunity to donate at a level that procured some space at CougCenter.

What follows is from Mark Billington, who decided he wanted to write something personal.

*By the way — it looks like we’re doing another printing run of the UNIT3D apparel at Bonfire. If you missed out the first time, or just want another shirt, you can order one (or more) now!

First and foremost, I want to thank Kym and Mark Hilinski for the work they have done and continue to do in Tyler’s memory, and by doing so, helping countless others who may be suffering or questioning themselves at this point in their life. Through their untiring work, we will never forget Tyler.

I would like to begin my story with a story about Tyler. At the last Holiday Bowl luncheon, my wife and I were sitting next to a table where there seemed to be a whole lot of laughs and enjoyment. My wife commented how much fun it would be to be at that table and who the players were. One look over and there was that smile — it was Tyler, “holding court,” and having the table laughing. Tyler is now free from the earthly bonds that bound him and free from his earthly pain. Rest in Peace, Tyler.

My journey to Pullman begins as a newborn in Lubbock, Texas. Being that football is king in Texas, upon birth, one is “christened” with a college football team to cheer for. Of course, mine was Texas Tech. Even moving to Amarillo, we would still make the trek to Lubbock.

My first vivid recollection of Tech was the years Donny Anderson was there. Even a move from Texas to Southern California as a pre-teen did not dampen my love for the Red Raiders. As I continued to support them, even through the lean years and into my adulthood — having to endure much ribbing from my fellow firefighters, who of course were USC and UCLA fans — I kept rooting them on.

Then in 2000 a new coach was hired. The Red Raiders hired Mike Leach. The excitement of Tech football had returned. The style of football was a true joy to watch. It was video game-like plays that even the video game couldn’t imagine. The pride in Lubbock was at an all-time high, with winning seasons and bowl game appearances. Then, as we all know, Coach Leach was unceremoniously fired by the boneheads at the University. I had grown to love everything about Leach — his play calling, fourth down attempts, his post-game press conferences, interviews, and even his acting. So when he was let go and I despised his replacement, I burned all my Tech gear and vowed I would follow Coach Leach to wherever he landed.

That is what has led me to Washington State. At first I thought I would buy some Coug gear, go to some games, and that would be that; showing my support that way. My first chance to see WSU play in person was in 2014 vs. Oregon. Having gone to other college games was nothing like what I experienced in Pullman. The crowd was electric and the stadium provided a very intimate-yet-intimidating setting. A bonus this trip was the chance to tour the new Football Operations Building. To do this I had to pay $50 to join the Cougar Athletic Fund, which was well worth it.

Realizing just “flying the colors” is not enough, I have continued to be a member of the CAF and have increased my donation on a regular basis. Additionally, I have joined the alumni association as a friend of the university. My wife and I now attend between 2-5 games a year (usually 2 home and 3 road) and enjoy the Cougs we meet whether it is at a CAF coaches luncheon on Friday, the Fieldhouse pregame, or a tailgate on the road. On my previous trips to Pullman I always enjoyed stopping by then-AD Bill Moos’ office for a quick hello and chat. He was always welcoming and took the time to visit. He was really the first person to welcome me as a Coug.

Being able to be at ESPN’s Gameday this year demonstrated to me the love and passion the students, community, alumni, friends and fans have for the Cougs. I live in a city where there is a major university and you can travel less than a mile from campus and not see anyone sporting the school apparel. Now this university has no football team, but still — little-to-no support, unlike in Pullman, where Coug gear is spotted everywhere.

Our love for Coug athletics has spread beyond football. At a CAF coaches luncheon several years back, Coach Greeny spoke about her squad playing Stanford that night. I had never attended a college volleyball match, so we decided to go. What a thriller. We beat Stanford in five. Boom, we were instantly hooked on volleyball which we attend when their schedule coincides with football. We also enjoy watching women’s basketball and soccer. The tour of the FOB really opened my eyes as to why it’s important to donate and support our student athletes. They sacrifice so much to provide us with quality performances and the CAF is one way to demonstrate to them our appreciation and to give back. For me just buying the t-shirts at the Bookie to show support was no longer enough.

So that is how I arrived as a WSU fan. I love the city, the area, and most of all, the Cougs — and I even have got the fight song down. Coach Leach may have brought me here, but I don’t see myself leaving. I would like to be an honorary Coug for life.

Thanks for the space and GO COUGS!

Mark Billington

Riverside, CA