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

2023 in review; WSU football

Recapping the Cougs 2023 football season cut short
Jake Dickert and the 2023 WSU football team getting ready to take the field at Husky Stadium, Nov. 25, in Seattle, Wash.

Success is relative to many things: expectations, circumstances and other outside factors. For WSU, 2023 was a season of promise, heartbreak and disbelief, hope and ultimately acceptance as they now look forward toward an offseason and future certain to come with more than a few changes.

The season ended on the lowest of notes, by way of a game-winning field goal against Washington in Seattle. While it was a crushing way to cap the season off, it also should serve as a sign of pride for the effort of the seniors, and fuel for the underclassmen.

“Sometimes in life, you don’t get what you want. Really appreciative of these seniors, and what they’ve given this team, but this has gotta be fuel for the young guys. Their leadership starts now,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said after the game. 

The season started 4-0, with the Cougs being the No. 13 team in the country heading into their bye week. Suspicion and rumors will continue to swirl around what could have happened over that time, and despite lack of evidence, the on-field product to follow was a complete 180 as the Cougs would drop their next six.

Eventually, the fire was reignited, as Wazzu celebrated their seniors against Colorado and put on potentially their best showing of the season in the blowout win. The win and the whole year were a chance to honor and really take in the excellence of guys like Ron Stone Jr., Brennan Jackson and Lincoln Victor.

Leaders through and through, who not only broke out on the field but kept the vibes elevated in the locker room. Beyond that, they were models of work ethic, consistency and commitment, and the losses will be felt on the field and throughout the community.

“It’s all over man, it’s like a final thing. You see that scoreboard, there’s not much you can really do about it, man. I think about all the memories I made with this team,” Stone said. “Those are my brothers for life. It sounds dumb but, this was the most fun I’ve ever had while having so many losses, we came to work every day, it was never woe is me. There was never quit, there was always fight.”

The offseason will be plagued by negativity regarding the Pac-12, transfer portal and key departures, but this is a chance to reflect on the good of the season, whether it be key milestones or performances, or breakout seasons and comeback stories.

First is quarterback Cam Ward. The second-year Coug had an unbelievable season finishing fourth in the country with 3,732 yards passing, completing 66.7% of his passes with 33 total touchdowns and outperforming potential first-round pick Michael Penix Jr. in the Apple Cup. Ward was also named a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm and the Davey O’Brien Awards.

Cam Ward warming up as the Cougs get ready to take on the Huskies, Nov. 25, in Seattle, Wash.

“He’s been great all season. I don’t think people talk enough about Cam and his future and what he’s capable of doing. This dude is a high-level NFL quarterback. There’s a lot of things he can still get better at he’s only 21 years old. I’m proud of him, he’s an ultimate competitor, and he’s not satisfied with the results of what he can do better. He’s always given us a chance to win,” Dickert said.

Victor finished the season with a career-high in yards (860), touchdowns (five receiving, one rushing) and receptions (89) all while missing multiple games. His 89 grabs were good for sixth in the country, and are tied with Coug legend Gabe Marks for the third most in a season in Cougar history. Victor is certainly a pro-day away from a look in the pros.

Stone and Jackson returned for their sixth seasons to form one of the best edge rushing duos in the conference, with Stone forcing fumbles and Jackson them. Stone tied a career-high with five sacks while registering a personal best three forced fumbles. Jackson also had a career-highs in sacks (8.5), recovering four fumbles and scoring touchdowns on three.

“It’s been a blessing to be around the seniors here, RJ, BJ, they embody what a Coug is, they took me under their wing. It’s just been an awesome time for everybody on this team and I couldn’t be any more grateful to share everything we went through this year, last year, summer workouts, random stuff in Pullman with the receivers, running backs and O-lineman. I love those guys, those guys love me and I can’t wait to get to it,” Ward said.

Junior linebacker Kyle Thornton was named a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy for the nation’s top former walk-on, finishing the year tied for fifth in the Pac-12 with 87 tackles. Senior long snapper Simon Samarzich also got some recognition by being named a finalist for the Patrick Mannelly Award for the nation’s top long snapper.

Newcomers made their impact felt as well, with transfer wide receiver Josh Kelly leading the team with 923 yards and eight TDs and fellow transfer Kyle Williams with 842 yards and six TDs. Transfer linebacker Devin Richardson was fourth on the team with 62 tackles as well.

Josh Kelly celebrates after tying the Apple Cup at seven points a piece, Nov. 25, in Seattle, Wash.

The true freshman got plenty of looks this year with key pieces like receiver Carlos Hernandez, running back Leo Pulalasi, defensive tackles Ansel Din-Mbuh and Khalil Laufau and edge Bobby Terrell. 

And it was a big year for the breakout story. Sophomore safety Jaden Hicks exploded for a career-high 76 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He also scored his first collegiate touchdown on a pick-six while tallying four passes defended.

As Stone alluded to, despite the struggles, the team was always connected. Especially bound together by Dickert, who throughout the losing streak preached effort, being mentally strong and staying the course. 

Jake Dickert gets his team ready to take the field for the Apple Cup, Nov. 25, in Seattle, Wash.

Following the loss to UW, Dickert saw each player off the field, showing the bond he has spoken to each and every week, especially when it got tough. His message and belief helped to fuel the late-season comeback attempt from the team and especially hit home with Ward.

“It means a lot, he’s the first Power Five coach that I played for so he means a lot in my life and means a lot in my heart. He took a chance on me when a lot of coaches didn’t so I’ll forever owe that to him,” Ward said. “To see him greeting every player coming off the field shows how much he really cares for us, not even about football but as a person.”

It will sting for some time to end the season watching the ball go through your own uprights, but the pain from that, will stick around and fuel the program going forward.

“We gotta take this one all the way into the offseason and remember this feeling of falling short,” Dickert said. 

The struggles of the season ultimately led to the snapping of the Cougs’ seven-year bowl streak. But with the change that came of this year and will continue to come next, it only seems right that the Cougs chart a new path, create a brand new bowl streak and charge into a brand new chapter of Cougar football.

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About the Contributors
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2023 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.

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  • Jim JohnsonNov 30, 2023 at 2:48 pm

    Will students have the option of redirecting tuition money to the NIL program?