HOLLYWOOD — Signal Sports attends Pac-12 Media Days every year intent on asking conference coaches and players about Santa Clarita Valley football alums: how they’ve progressed, what we should expect come fall.
“Jay Jay is like 260, 255 pounds, and he moves like he’s 220,” Arizona State running back Kalen Ballage said Thursday of Valencia High graduate Jay Jay Wilson.
“I think Trent’s going to have a breakout year,” said Stanford coach David Shaw of Hart alum Trent Irwin.
At times, of course, we’re also treated to dating advice and a formal renouncement of hot dogs.
The two-day media spectacle’s format goes like this: each coach is allotted 20 minutes to address a gaggle of reporters from behind a table on the front dais.
At some point, without fail, amid questions about formations and fundamentals, eccentric Washington State coach Mike Leach is asked about something non-football related.
On Thursday, it was hot dogs.
Reporter: “I have a Twitter question, and I know that you love Twitter.”
Leach: “Well, I’m getting the hang of it.”
Reporter: “They want to know, is a hot dog a sandwich?”
Leach: “I don’t like hot dogs. I never liked hot dogs when I was a kid, and I think that some of that started with when I was a real young kid. I’d have bologna sandwich after bologna sandwich. So anything that even remotely resembled bologna, I hated.”
One reporter in the scrum looked at a colleague and breathed, “What the f—?”
“Everybody says, ‘Go to the ballgame and eat a hot dog.’ Not me. No, it’s not a sandwich. I’m not into hot dogs, with all due respect to those that are, but they can have mine, so there will be more for them.”
A man videoing the speech giggled, but, no, this was not Leach’s most infamous monologue.
In 2015, the odd topic of choice was dating advice.
“What I used to do, I had two-for-one (coupons),” he said, “… and you could go to the sandwich place, ‘Oh this looks good, what are we having? Well, I don’t know.’ You pull out the coupon and you say, ‘Here’s the menu.’ But that’s not the first date.
“Make sure you go somewhere you can talk. If you go to Washington State, we have five of America’s greatest rivers around there. That’d be a good place. We have dunes. We have mountains. You can hunt rattlesnakes if you want to. You can go fish for sturgeon. I’ll tell you what, if you take her sturgeon fishing, I don’t believe she’d ever forget it.”
To be fair, Leach did budget his words when asked about Pokémon in 2016.
And Thursday, he also addressed serious topics, like a push by Washington State students to ban athletes with a history of sexual violence.
“I don’t know that a blanket ban is (good). I think it’s a tremendous issue. I think it’s a huge issue,” he said. “The thing is the combination of innocent until proven guilty, but then if you are guilty, I think you get rid of those people.”
The Cougars improvement on the field, to a lesser extent, has also been nothing to laugh at.
Washington State went 3-9 in 2012, Leach’s first season with the program.
They’ve won nine and eight games, respectively, the last two seasons.
“He expects so much from us, you know,” said Washington State running back Jamal Morrow.
“That’s just the way he is. It’s straight up. You’re either going to practice at a high level or you’re not. (He’s like), ‘If you’re not going to work hard, I’m going to make you work hard.’”
Still, Morrow and his teammates appreciate their coach’s lighter side.
“We love when he always has a good story or a good joke for us, you know,” he said. “He always keeps us light on our feet.”