Just once in his college football career, Travis Long wants the opportunity to play a college football game after November. The kind that usually comes with a trip to some sunny location. The kind that rewards the players for their efforts. He's played one football game in December, but it was the regular season finale in 2010 where his Washington State team fell to rival Washington 35-28. But conference games in December don't count.
Recently in Pullman, the changing of the calendar from November to December has signified the end of another frustrating season. That's not how Long, a senior and three-year player, wants to go out.
"I just want to make it to a bowl game," Long said. "That's one of my main goals as a senior. I want to make that trip finally. I haven't looked at the schedule too much. Right now our focus is on the summer program and BYU in the first game. But I don't see any reason why this team shouldn't go to a bowl game."
Are there six wins out there? Probably. Maybe even seven or eight. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. After all, Long has seen this program slug through 1-11, 2-10 and 4-8 seasons during his tenure.
But like every other Washington State player, he can't help but gush about the renewed excitement brought on by new head coach Mike Leach. And with a new staff comes a new approach to the game. Long's well-documented move from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker/DE hybrid is going well. An outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme in high school, he's re-learning the intricacies of covering the hook-to-curl zone and who to pick up in the flat.
But he also gets to do what he does best -- bring pressure. Long was one of the best defensive ends in the Pac-12 last season, though because the Cougars struggled, many outside of Pullman don't know much about him. But opposing coaches do, which is why they rewarded his 42-tackle season (12 for a loss, four sacks) by naming him to the second-team all-conference squad.
Now as a "buck" linebacker, he'll bounce around on both sides of the line, play with his hand up or down, drop into coverage or simply be a run-stopper. This is new defensive coordinator Mike Breske squeezing every drop of talent out of Long and his defense.
"Right when they came in, about a week or two after, they told me they wanted me to make the move and I was totally fine with it," Long said. "I'd done some of that stuff in the past so I didn't think it would be too hard of a transition.
"I like playing with my hand up. You don't have to run yourself into the O-line the whole time. I played linebacker in high school so I had some experience with my hand off the ground. It was a 4-3, but a lot of the same ideas."
Anytime you play for a Leach-coached team, the offense is going to get the attention. And why not? With quarterback Jeff Tuel and wide receiver Marquess Wilson predicted to be one of the top connections in the conference this year, it makes sense. Long said he's not worried if the defense doesn't get as much publicity.
"Our job is to play fast and without hesitation," he said. "When we made mistakes last year, it was because we hesitated and that's why we weren't playing fast. Take that out of the equation and we can make some big plays.
"His offense is so prolific. But defense wins games."