PULLMAN — Travis Long didn’t say much after Utah throttled his Washington State team 49-6 last Saturday. Didn’t have to.
His face revealed everything.
The all-conference linebacker snorted back tears while trying to answer questions for a few minutes, then abruptly stood and walked out of the conference room mid-question, slamming the door shut behind him.
The move punctuated a fourth consecutive losing season for the senior from Spokane. A three-year starter at defensive end, Long continues to compile individual accolades after switching to linebacker this season while the Cougars (2-7, 0-6 Pac-12) continue to lose. He leads WSU with 7.5 sacks entering Saturday’s Dad’s Weekend match-up with UCLA (7-2, 4-2 Pac-12).
Long earned Pac-10 honorable mention honors on a 1-11 WSU team his freshman year. In 2010, he garnered the same award on a 2-10 squad before receiving his first second-team Pac-12 selection last season.
A quiet personality away from the field, Long spoke candidly Monday about the frustration caused by the mounting losses. The Gonzaga Prep graduate is 9-36 during his WSU career. Teammates had to restrain the 6-foot-4, 245-pound defender while he yelled at at officials late in Saturday’s blowout loss.
“I’ve been through a lot of things at this university,” he said. “It hasn’t changed the way I play football.”
Long said he doesn’t regret his decision to come to WSU after starring as a tight end, defensive end and linebacker in the Greater Spokane League. He held scholarship offers from Boise State and Arizona State but opted to help former coach Paul Wulff rebuild a rundown program. The schools are a combined 12-6 this season.
“It’s not what I expected, but it is what it is,” Long said of his WSU’s sixth losing season in a row. “We just got to handle it, take what you can from everything and move forward. We just need to try and progress and get better as players and a team.”
Mike Leach echoed Long’s comments during his Monday press conference — when he wasn’t criticizing various position groups. The WSU coach was quick to distinguish his team captain from the seniors he said display an “empty-corpse” quality.
“(Long’s) the type of guy who personifies what we’re after, the mentality that we need the whole team to share — although he’s outnumbered,” Leach said.
Long said he doesn’t mind when the first-year coaching staff criticizes players. Marquess Wilson earned a one-week suspension Sunday night when he left 20 minutes into a two-hour conditioning session. Leach has publicly lambasted Wilson since taking the WSU job in January.
“He’s our coach telling us how he feels,” Long said. “That’s all it really is, so we have to take it for what it is. We have to give a better effort.”
Jeff Tuel is the only other player from Wulff’s inaugural recruiting class to earn Pac-12 honorable mention honors. The embattled starting quarterback said he couldn’t imagine having a more impressive teammate and friend.
His description also might shed light on how Long seamlessly handled the catastrophic coaching transition.
“He doesn’t take crap from anyone and he isn’t afraid of anyone,” Tuel said. “He’ll stand up for anyone, his beliefs and what is right.”
“You won’t find another guy like him around,” Tuel added. “He’s one-of-a-kind, in this program especially. He really expresses his emotions and leads by his actions tremendously.”
CBS Sports ranks Long 14th among graduating linebackers entering the NFL draft. Early projections have him drafted between the third and sixth rounds.
Long said his adversity-ridden run in Pullman hasn’t lead to any self-realizations. If anything, his college career affirmed what he knew the moment he started playing football.
“I like to compete,” he said. “I’m going to do that regardless of any situation that’s presented to me.”