PULLMAN — When you spend your Saturdays rooting out defensive intruders in the middle of a football field, you’re not likely to have to fight off interview requests or manage invitations to the Heisman ceremony.
So the rewards for Elliott Bosch, Washington State’s senior center, have been less tangible.
How about 2012, when he snapped the ball for every single one of WSU’s plays in Mike Leach’s first season?
“Close to a thousand, probably,” Bosch said. “I didn’t really think about it until my coach brought it up to me.”
Maybe his reluctant role as unofficial team spokesman? Not only was he one of the two players accompanying Leach to Pac-12 media day, he’s outstripped every teammate in the past two years with 11 appearances at WSU’s weekly Monday media sessions of three or four players.
Then there was his recent nomination for college football’s Burlsworth Trophy, given annually by the Rotary Club of Springdale, Ark., to the outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on.
And if none of those get it for Bosch, there’s this quote last week from Leach, unquestionably the most lavish praise he has spilled forth on a WSU player in his two seasons: “He’s one of the greatest overachievers I’ve ever coached.”
Bosch, undersized at about 280 pounds and under-pedigreed without a scholarship when he began at WSU out of Ferris High in Spokane, tends to inspire that kind of plaudit. Leach and Co. will recruit better prospects at his position, but they won’t sign anybody who has been more hellbent to squeeze every drop from his own talent.
“He’s a silent killer,” says linemate Gunnar Eklund. “You get to see how it’s supposed to be done when you look at Elliott. It’s not like you’re going to hear him talking about it, you’ll just see it.”
Maybe this is what happens when you come as a walk-on and realize you have no shot unless you outwork everybody, and pretty soon that’s the only way you know, even after they award you a scholarship.
“I didn’t get recruited much,” Bosch said, mentioning Central Washington and Western Washington, before it cut its program. He also had the grades to think about Ivy League schools, but he wanted to test his athletics at the highest level.
He came in 2009 as a tight end, and quickly realized the challenge of a walk-on. By definition, they’re guys who have the potential to make the coaches look bad because they didn’t offer a scholarship. So the emotional investment goes elsewhere.
“They tell you when you’re recruited that no one will even know you’re not on scholarship, that you’re going to be treated the same,” Bosch said. “But really, you’re not.”
He came to divide time between tight end and center, and when Leach and his staff arrived two seasons ago, it was a break for Bosch.
“This staff, I thought from the beginning, really gives everyone a chance,” he said. “They really, truly wanted to get the best players on the field.”
It wasn’t as though Bosch immediately wowed them with his size or quickness, but he’s nothing if not dogged.
“You have to be tough, and you can’t get injured,” Bosch said, referring to the walk-on’s challenge. “Every practice counts. You kind of develop that mentality from the get-go. If you keep that mentality, it really helps you later on.”
Done, said Clay McGuire, the WSU offensive-line coach.
“I’d be shocked if anybody on our team watches more film than he does,” McGuire said last week. “When we work our fundamentals and technique, he’s doing everything right every single time.
“When you talk about getting better every day — he never takes reps off in practice, never takes a drill off. We’re doing drills yesterday, and he’s doing it as hard as he can.”
Bosch wouldn’t lie; until the Cougars’ late-season surge to bowl eligibility, WSU football has been mostly the school of hard knocks in his five seasons. One of those came a year ago at Utah, when, after a 49-6 loss, Leach was so infuriated at the collective performance of the offensive and defensive lines, he marshaled them out to explain the day’s shortcomings to the postgame media.
“The last thing I wanted to do was go out to talk to the media,” Bosch said last summer.
“There were a couple of kids in that group, that kind of thing kind of shut them down. That’s what we’re working towards, all being the way we can embrace something like that.”
For Bosch, it was one more hurdle in a career of them. Somehow, he always comes out the other side.