- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Darryl Monroe represents grounds for hope for Washington State, hope that the beleaguered program will trend up in 2013.
It's not only that he played well last fall as a redshirt freshman starting at middle linebacker in the Pac-12, which is pretty rare. It's his makeup. When coach Mike Leach griped about the focus, work habits and mental toughness of his team last year, he wasn't talking about Monroe.
"Definitely an impressive guy," Leach said. "A good individual to build a defense around."
Want to know why Leach calls Monroe "impressive" and why we're pulling out the word "makeup," one of those vague, football scout-type terms, as one of his positive qualities?
How about this: Monroe was asked about the Cougars' dramatic 18-point fourth-quarter comeback and overtime victory over the archrival Washington Huskies.
"It will be one of the games I'll remember for the rest of my life," he said. "We played that game for Travis Long. He was holding back tears because he couldn't play. We got him an Apple Cup before we were out of here. That's what it meant to me: Getting that win for Travis."
That is a good answer in so many ways. Yet perhaps there's not enough Husky hate from the Orlando, Fla., native, who admits to not knowing much about the rivalry before he arrived in Pullman?
"We bleed crimson and we don't like Washington," he said.
Other than the Apple Cup, the 2012 season was tough on the Cougars. The great hope inspired by Leach's hiring quickly spiraled into the muck of a 3-9 finish and another campaign -- no winning seasons since 2003 -- spent looking up from the bottom of the Pac-12. It became clear there would be no quick fix, and Leach repeatedly promised an escalation in the intensity of his demands.
Monroe described the offseason work as "brutal ... and it's not even over." But that's not the important part of his thinking.
"The struggle is something you've got to embrace," he said. "It's what's going to make you better in the long run."
As we said: Makeup.
Know that Monroe isn't just a smooth talker. The 6-foot-1, 215 pounder earned All-Pac-12 honorable mention, finishing second on the team with 80 tackles. His 8.5 tackles for a loss, including three sacks, ranked third on the team.
Another aspect of his makeup: He didn't bail out on the program.
Monroe picked the Cougars over Cincinnati and South Florida because of his relationship with Chris Ball, the defensive coordinator under Paul Wulff. His true freshman season ended with a torn Achilles, which was a bummer. When Wulff was fired, Monroe seriously considered leaving so he could start over somewhere else.
Pullman, after all, is a long way from home, both literally and figuratively. Orlando doesn't have too many days when the temperature is in the single digits, for one.
"It was a stressful time, period," he said. "It was pretty tough. It was a time of uncertainty for me, whether I would still be a Cougar or not."
But his parents pretty much advised him to suck it up. So he did. By midseason, he became one of the Cougars' best leaders, earning game captain honors three times, including for the Apple Cup.
He's not the conference's biggest or fastest linebacker. He makes up for that, though, with his brain.
Said Leach, "He really plays well from the neck up. He's a really smart guy."
Coaches often talk about "attention to detail," and Monroe uses that phrase three times in a 15 minute interview. When asked about what aspect of his game he's working on, he talks about reading his keys and leadership.
He sounds very "coachy." It's not difficult to imagine Leach nodding with approval after his every answer.
For Cougars fans looking for grounds for hopes, Monroe is a good place to start.