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Thursday, October 21, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Gleason Grows Into Role At WSU

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

GREAT SPEED, a nose for the ball and a solid understanding of offenses has enabled WSU linebacker Steve Gleason to overcome his lack of size and be the Pac-10's leading tackler.

As linebackers go, Steve Gleason hasn't always been small.

In fact, when the Washington State University senior was an eighth-grader in Spokane, he remembers being the same height he is now - 5 feet 11 - with size-13 feet "and my dad was like, `Oh, man, we've got a stud.' "

But a father's dream turned into a son's shortfall.

"I maybe grew a half-inch in high school (Gonzaga Prep)," Gleason said. "My freshman year, I was one of the biggest kids on the team and then people started passing me by."

Yes, a lot of people grew taller than Gleason, who, with a face mirroring youthful innocence, probably still could get into movies at Pullman's Cordova Theater for junior prices. Except he's been around for so long and has made so many tackles for the Cougar football team over the past three-plus seasons that everybody knows he's no kid.

And they know it around the Pac-10 Conference, too.

Despite his size - 5-11 and 218 pounds - Gleason leads the league in tackles with an average of 11 per game. Sure, say the statistical purists, he's got that average because the Cougar defense is on the field so much - WSU (2-4) is last in the league in time of possession going into Saturday's game at Arizona State.

But Gleason's accomplishments are nothing new. He led the 1997 Cougar Rose Bowl team in tackles as a sophomore. He was near the lead as a junior.

Gleason said this week that he doesn't consider himself small.

"I guess if I step back and look at it, I'm obviously undersized compared to most linebackers," he said. "But I think that my play is speaking for itself and it just shows that you can be undersized and be more than effective."

Especially when you can run fast.

"I think I have real good speed and my quickness is good," Gleason said. "I think I'm as fast as just about anybody on the field.

"Also, I think I have a pretty good knowledge of the game. I understand offenses pretty well. I understand our defense really well. I watch a lot of film. Sometimes, when I make a play, it has nothing to do with my size. It has to do with being in the right place at the right time.

"On top of all that, it's just a matter of effort. Sometimes I'll make a play on a run to the other side of the field just because I ran myself over there and the runner might have broken a tackle and I was there for the final tackle."

Cougar coaches expected as much when they offered him a scholarship in 1995.

"When you look at films, you look for that burst of speed," Bill Doba, defensive coordinator, said. "And he had it in high school. We didn't teach him that and he hasn't lost it.

"He just made plays. He'd start to flow and then all of a sudden there would just be a little blur and then you'd see the running back fall down.

"I think that burst is what everybody looks for in good defensive players, whether it's linebackers or linemen or secondary."

Despite his "burst" Gleason was not heavily recruited.

"Probably because of his size," Doba said.

"It's a gamble. If he was down in Southern California, we might not have recruited him either.

"But he's a local kid and we got a lot of insights from his coach (Don Anderson) about what great character the kid had and what a great leader he was. There are some intangibles that make up for a lack of size. He definitely has those.

"Basically, he's a winner."

Gleason hopes his positive traits will be positive enough to get him a professional opportunity.

Doba, who has helped several Cougar linebackers (big and small) get into the NFL, likes Gleason's chances as a defensive back in "nickel" situations and as a special-teamer.

"Kind of like Chris Hayes," Doba said of the ex-Cougar linebacker who is playing for the New York Jets.

Hayes, however, has at least one advantage over Gleason. At 6 feet, he's an inch taller.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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