PULLMAN –When I crossed paths with Pat Chun while walking into Washington State football practice on Wednesday, the athletic director mentioned it was a “big night for the Cougars” with the football program making its cameo on HBO’s 24/7 College Football series.
Chun had already watched through the 56-minute program before it debuted on HBO’s streaming platforms later the same night. The AD liked what he saw, praising the network for the quality and detail of the camerawork, editing and narration throughout the fourth and final episode of the 24/7 docuseries.
“It’s a great infomercial for our program,” Chun said.
And after watching myself, I’d concur.
The all-access show offers behind-the-scenes looks at various team meetings, invades the house of quarterback Anthony Gordon, running back Max Borghi and linebacker Hank Pladson, tags along with the wide receivers for a competitive bowling match and covers the defensive turbulence the team went through during a three-game losing skid.
Here are 10 highlights from the nearly hour-long segment on the Cougars.
1. Leach, Leach and more Leach
No surprise here, but much of the show was centered around the quirk and offensive genius of coach Mike Leach. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say Leach is the sole reason HBO targeted WSU and Pullman in the first place – no different than Arizona State and eccentric second-year coach Herm Edwards.
The episode features raw footage from a variety of team meetings, huddles and drills. In one, Leach uses choice words to explain why he has no tolerance for players spinning the football after making big plays – something that earned Travell Harris an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty at ASU.
“We have way too many penalties,” Leach said, “and the thing is, aggressive penalties are one thing, dumb penalties are another.”
Cameras follow Leach through the lentil fields as the coach walks from his Pullman home to the WSU campus and tour his office, where there’s pirate paraphernalia, a signed photo from Donald Trump ans a desk computer Leach claims he’s never used.
“I think the fact that I didn’t play college football, I had to learn as I went,” Leach explains as narrator Liev Schrieber talks about his coaching background. “Some of the by the book stuff, I didn’t know what the book said and so then by trial and error me and some of the great people I had the chance to work with, learned some great things along the way.”
Leach, undoubtedly and unsuprisingly, is the star of this show.
2. Defensive turbulence
HBO made a trip to Pullman during the preseason, then came back to shoot the second game against Northern Colorado. When they made their return visit ahead of the Colorado game, they found a team that’d just lost its defensive coordinator and was still trying to regain its footing.
Interim defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni and co-interim DC Darcel McBath are interviewed separately and cameras sit in on a defensive coaches’ meeting, where Bellantoni is at the head of the table in front of two computer screens and clearly the one running the show.
He talks about Tracy Claeys’ resignation, explaining “At first it was a shock, kind of came out of nowhere, didn’t really expect it. Then you turn to, well where do we go from here?”
Said McBath, “You’re trying to figure out, what’s the next move? What’s the best move for the team?”
While Bellantoni is technically the authoritative figure right now, McBath said that defensive meetings are “an open forum.”
“I think it’s unified us a bit more,” Bellantoni said. “We’re a little bit tighter as a staff than we were before.”
While filming the Colorado game, cameras show McBath instructing and inspiring a large group of defensive players on the sideline. It’s a small glimpse of why Leach decided to elevate the vocal, energetic cornerbacks coach to a co-DC position.
3. Touring Casa Gordon/Borghi/Pladson
Cameras pay a visit to the shared house of quarterback Gordon, Borghi and Pladson. The trio have outfitted the exterior of the house with Halloween decor and inside, they have a cardboard cutout of Danny DeVito that a handful of teammates have signed.
“Here’s our mini basketball hoop, in case anyone’s trying to get dunked on by Gordo,” Borghi said. “He’s a pretty good basketball player. I’m not.”
Gordon takes the crew into his bedroom. A California flag drapes over one of the windows and a Mac Dre poster covers one of the walls – both emblems of the QB’s home state.
The roommates gather on the couch and make a FaceTime call to former WSU and current Jacksonville Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew, who’s still bumming over a weekend loss to the New Orleans Saints.
Borghi notices Minshew’s “stache has a couple more inches to it down this way.”
“Yeah, it’s coming down,” Minshew responds. “It’s a little wild.”
Next to Leach, Gordon, the nation’s leading passer, easily grabs the most screen time among WSU players and coaches.
At one point, a cameraman asks him if he has a good impression of his coach. Gordon hesitates at first, then breaks into his best Leach impersonation.
“‘Gordon, I don’t know who you’re throwing to on that play,’” the QB said, using a nasaly voice. “‘Just hit ‘em, he’s wide open, just hit ‘em.’”
Later on, the crew spends time with Gordon during film study, explaining how the Cougars utilize virtual reality goggles to review plays – something that the QB said “gives you a good picture of what the defense is doing to us and get a different vantage point from traditional film.”
Fans get a sense of Gordon’s leadership and tenacity on the sideline. The Pacifica, California, native is often portrayed as a laid back surfer, but, slipping in a few expletives, he encourages his offensive teammates to keep their foot on the gas pedal as the Cougars pull a few scores ahead of the Buffaloes.
“We’ve got a few more in us,” Gordon said after a touchdown. “Let’s go! Let’s go!”
5. Rolling with the receivers
You can’t feature the Cougars without spotlighting their best position group. This year, of course, it’s the wide receivers. Seven of them already have at least 200 receiving yards and one touchdown, while four are up to 300-plus.
During their down time, WSU’s wideouts occasionally visit one of the few entertainment venues the small, college town of Pullman has to offer: Zeppoz Bowling.
“Z” receiver Dezmon Patmon explains that’s been a pastime of his and while growing up in San Diego, his mom enrolled him in a summer bowling league.
Kassidy Woods pokes fun at Tay Martin, explaining “He’s never bowled in his life. He’s from Louisiana, they don’t bowl.”
The banter between inside and outside receivers turns into an actual competition.
“Outside’s going to win today,” Patmon proclaims.
In the final scene, Calvin Jackson Jr. knocks down two final pins for a spare, notching a victory for the outside receivers as he and Easop Winston Jr. perform a custom handshake. The inside receivers are forced to complete a set a pushups.
6. Mayor Johnson’s closeup
The cameras meandered over to the downtown Pullman office of Glenn Johnson, initially introducing him as the football PA announcer.
“In Pullman, Washington, there’s perhaps no greater example of the connection between the Cougars and the community than the team’s longtime PA announcer Glenn Johnson,” Schrieber said, “who also happens to be the town mayor.”
Johnson goes on to explain he’s running for his fifth mayoral term – “I have no opposition,” said Johnson, wearing a crimson polo, “which is also wonderful to have.”
While the show primarily focuses on the football program itself, segments on Johnson and football ops building chef Raul Vera reflect folks who are instrumental to the Cougars away from the field.
7. Movie night
On Friday before home games, the Cougars, who stay at the Hilltop Inn, have made it a tradition to take in a movie at Village Centre Cinemas. They go to the movies on the road, as well.
A theater employee explains that the football team drains the Icee machine pretty quickly and usually devours “maybe 10” full kettles of buttered popcorn.
Nose tackle Dallas Hobbs shows off an interesting technique to make sure the butter makes it to the bottom of the popcorn bag, sticking a straw into the pile of popped kernels and pouring butter into the opening.
“Then you don’t really got to worry about shaking it,” he said. “They call me the popcorn pro around here.”
8. Kicker and his coach
Blake Mazza, who’s 11-of-11 on field goals this season, has been one of WSU’s most consistent performers this season. He’s yet to miss a PAT, either, on 38 tries.
As the specialists are shown kicking a soccer ball around the field at Martin Stadium, Schreiber said, “When a team leads the Pac-12 in touchdowns and frequently takes chances on all four downs, opportunities for field goals and punts are hard to come by. And the same evidently goes for attention from the head coach.”
How often does Leach communicate with his specialists?
“If you’re a kicker here, you’re playing,” Mazza said. “But you’ve got little opportunities, so it’s make or miss. We’re on our own island. I’ve talked to Leach personally five or six times and that’s it. He’s out there with the offense and he kind of lets me be and just says go do your thing.”
Leach concurs: “He’s done a good job, but I don’t see him too much unless he doesn’t function right.”
9. O-line shenanigans
The offensive line has gathered at the start of Thursday’s practice and redshirt freshman Hunter Mayginnes is standing atop a camera booth atop the east end zone, with a group of his fellow linemen standing below him.
With disco music blaring in the background, Mayginnes mimics a DJ, pretending to spin a record as he shouts “Can you feel it?!”
It makes for a funny bit – Mayginnes DJ’ing from above and about 10 other linemen raising their arms and pumping their fists down below.
10. Soaking up a win
Near the end of the episode, various highlights from WSU’s wet 41-10 win over Colorado are shown: Gordon’s four touchdowns, Borghi’s explosive 47-yard scoring run, interceptions by both Marcus Strong and Skyler Thomas.
The cameras follow the team back to the locker room to capture Leach’s postgame speech.
“Listen up, this was a good team win, this was a good team win,” he starts. “We had contributions on all three sides. Also, this was the most complete game we’ve played. We’ve said this over and over, one play at a time. Everybody here’s got to stay in the present. You always have to be in the present because you only have one play. You have to do your job, make a routine play and finish it.”
“Congratulations,” Leach concludes, “great team win.”
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