The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

His name is Kapena Gushiken

Cougar Nickel wows nation with career firsts, pick-six
WSU+defensive+back+Kapena+Gushiken+and+WSU+wide+receiver+Carlos+Hernandez+fight+for+the+ball+during+the+WSU+football+spring+game%2C+Saturday%2C+April+22%2C+2023%2C+in+Pullman%2C+Wash.
HAILEE SPEIR
WSU defensive back Kapena Gushiken and WSU wide receiver Carlos Hernandez fight for the ball during the WSU football spring game, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Pullman, Wash.

At halftime of WSU football’s 25-17 loss to UCLA, thousands of Coug fans asked the same question. “Who is this guy?”

During what most WSU fans will remember as a grueling, disappointing game, one Coug quickly captured the hearts of Cougar nation with five stellar plays.

His name is Kapena Gushiken.

Gushiken’s first impression was a noticeably hard hit on UCLA’s T.J. Harden in the flat late in the first quarter that reminded Seahawks fans of the Legion of Boom’s Kam Chancellor.

On the very next play, Gushiken bound past the Bruin offensive line and wrapped his arms around UCLA quarterback Dante Moore for a loss of nine yards. It was his first collegiate career sack.

Down 9-3 with 14 seconds remaining in the first half, the Cougar defense found themselves with their backs against the wall after the offense had failed to score a single touchdown. On third and goal from the five-yard line, Moore attempted to rifle a pass to the right side of the field but failed to notice Gushiken blitzing.

Gushiken lept up, grabbed the ball and sprinted 88 yards down the field to score the Cougar’s first touchdown of the game. Following a Dean Janikowski PAT, the Cougs had their first lead at 10-9, which they took into halftime at the Rose Bowl.

Gushiken was not the only one sprinting the length of the field, however, as head coach Jake Dickert joined him.

“It’s one of those things as a coach, you know you tell your guys never jump, right, don’t jump, don’t jump, and then all of a sudden ‘Yeah!’” Dickert said in his Monday press conference. “You know, then we’re both sprinting down the sideline, I got a penalty on that one, but I did run about a 4.99 down the sideline, I still think I can break five, but proud of him, he’s been working hard.”

Dickert said his staff places a lot of mental pressure on the nickel position group, but that players get more comfortable with what the team asks of them as they grow through their careers.

“He’s definitely a playmaker and I think that showed Saturday,” Dickert said.

Gushiken said he was supposed to blitz the QB, but saw Moore eyeing the flat route directly behind him and made the play.

“I jumped and he threw it straight to me and then I just took off,” he said.

Gushiken did not go away in the second half as he was responsible for several key defensive plays, including a pass defended in the end zone.

Pro Football Focus rated Gushiken the best Pac-12 cornerback in week six. Prior to the game, Gushiken had 13 tackles, no sacks and no interceptions. He left Pasadena, California, with three more tackles to his name for a total of 16, his first career sack and first career interception through his first five games at WSU.

The junior from Pukalani, Maui, Hawaii,  transferred from Saddleback College in California, where in 2022, he earned a spot on the All-National Division Southern League First Team and left Saddleback as the seventh-best junior quarterback in the nation as determined by ESPN.

He has made excellent progress at the Power Five level and it was on display for the whole nation over the weekend.

Pro Football Focus named Gashiken to their Week Six College Football Team of the Week in the flex role.

“I think he’s a very explosive player. I think we’ve always known that ever since the moment we recruited him,” Dickert said.

The next time you see No. 4 on the Cougars make a big play, you won’t have to Google him because you already know his name is Kapena Gushiken.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
SAM TAYLOR, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.
HAILEE SPEIR, Evergreen photo editor
Hailee Speir is a photographer for the Daily Evergreen. Hailee is a junior English education major from Spokane, Washington. Hailee started working for the Evergreen in fall 2021 as a photographer.