LEWISTON, Idaho — Mike Leach missed out on defensive tackle Lamonte McDougle the first time.
But not the second time, thanks to a bouquet of flowers. McDougle, from Florida, turned down an offer from Washington State out of high school to play for West Virginia. After earning ESPN freshman All-American honors at West Virginia, he decided to transfer and was “getting recruited by a lot of schools around the country.”
“The difference to me was the only school that sent flowers to my grandmother’s funeral was Washington State and coach Leach,” said McDougle, 6 feet and 291 pounds, who is vying for time at nose tackle after sitting out last season because of transfer rules. “That made a big difference to me because I wanted to go somewhere where it felt like family and I felt that here.”
Leach had a bit of an advantage. Stockar McDougle, Lamonte’s father, played at Oklahoma and Leach was his offensive coordinator with the Sooners during the 1999 season.
“I’ve known coach Leach since middle school,” said Lamonte, whose cousin, Tommie Harris, was an All-Pro defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears. “My dad would tell me crazy stories about his college coach (Leach). He was a cool guy.”
Lamonte said telling Leach he wasn’t coming to WSU out of high school “was pretty tough, but we still had that connection. He wasn’t really bitter about it. He’s like family so he was pretty understanding.”
McDougle played in all 13 games as a freshman at West Virginia, recording 23 tackles including four for loss, and two sacks. He also had a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. But McDougle, whose uncle Jerome McDougle played several years in the NFL as a defensive end, said he didn’t feel like the defensive system at West Virginia was a good fit for him.
Having to sit out last season during his first year in Pullman was difficult.
“It sucked, but I didn’t just use the time to sit around and mope,” he said. “I dedicated the year to getting better. I learned the defense. I know I can make plays, but it’s making plays through the defense and I am finally getting it down.”
McDougle said uncle Jerome has been a help in his career, “even at family reunions he’s showing me something to do to get past an offensive lineman.”
Father Stockar also watches him closely, and will text him advice.
Perhaps no one on the Cougars is more excited to start playing games than McDougle, who came to camp sporting crimson-colored hair.
The forced redshirt year has given him a new perspective.
“Before, I don’t think I really realized how much a blessing it is just to be able to do the things that we do,” McDougle said. “It definitely gave me more love for the game.”
He said his goals are to “be the best teammate possible and to be the best in the (Pac-12),” he said. “I put the work in, so I don’t see why I can’t do it.”
Leach doesn’t coach the defense, but McDougle said they “talk every now and then,” both as friends and as coach and player.
“He’s asking me how my family is doing, or he is telling me what he sees and what I need to work on,” McDougle said.