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Originally published August 8, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 8, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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WSU Football | Abdullah works to make Cougars better

Husain Abdullah usually talks by telephone with his brother in the NFL, Hamza, three or four times a day. One day in May, he had special...

Seattle Times staff reporter

PULLMAN — Husain Abdullah usually talks by telephone with his brother in the NFL, Hamza, three or four times a day.

One day in May, he had special news for the Denver Broncos safety — he had followed in Hamza's 2004 footsteps and had been elected a co-captain at Washington State.

On Father's Day, Husain had more family news — he and his wife, Zhavon, had just become parents of a baby boy, Jalaal.

This fall, Husain hopes a lot of the conversations are about WSU victories, but the team is picked eighth in the Pac-10 and the secondary is one of the huge question marks.

As the only returning starter in the secondary, Husain often fields assignment questions from younger players.

He is Muslim and approachable, so some teammates aren't bashful about asking about the religion.

He said typical questions are: "Why do you guys do this? Why do you guys do that? Why do you guys fast?"

Cougars coach Bill Doba said Abdullah's election as co-captain is just another example of the meritocracy of sports.

"I don't think this team or most teams care about a guy's religion," Doba said. "Sports teaches tolerance. ... If you're a running back and a guy is blocking for you, you don't care if he's black, white, green, Christian, Muslim or Jew. ... Sports teaches respect for what a person does, not what he wears or his beliefs or what color he is. That's a lesson that athletics can teach that's very difficult to teach in a classroom."

Abdullah prays five times daily and said he can't eat or drink anything from sunrise to sundown during Ramadan, the 30-day religious holiday that begins Sept. 13 this year.

On road trips during Ramadan, the Cougars arrange for meals and beverages to be delivered to his hotel room before sunrise.

"Two years ago against USC was one of the toughest experiences ever because the game started at noon and it was hot," Abdullah said.

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Abdullah had a memorable first game as a Cougar with a late-game interception and a fumble recovery in a comeback victory at New Mexico in 2004. Three weeks later, he recovered a late-game fumble that led to a 20-19 victory at Arizona in a game that had appeared lost.

Last year, he made 44 tackles in the final six games and intercepted a pass in the Apple Cup.

Startling linebacker Greg Trent said Abdullah "is a nice guy off the field," but "flips a switch" and is all business on the field.

Trent, a fellow co-captain, said Abdullah "likes to motivate teammates one-on-one" rather than be a cheerleader.

When Abdullah finishes his eligibility and collects his degree in sociology, the Abdullah clan might not be through with WSU football.

A younger brother, Esa, a high-school junior, shows promise and participated in the Cougars' camp for high-school players this summer.

If Esa winds up at WSU, someday he might pick up the phone and deliver good news about the co-captaincy. It would be called family tradition.

Notes

• There were three minor altercations at practice Tuesday, the first practice with shoulder pads. In the most spirited confrontation, Trent and running back Dwight Tardy started to fight during an 11-on-11 drill, but were quickly pulled apart by teammates. On the next play, Trent registered a hard hit on Tardy, to the delight of the defense. The other scuffles that were ended quickly were Brandon Gibson with freshman cornerback Chima Nwachukwu and Andy Mattingly with Ben Woodard.

• Newcomer safety Terry Mixon, already playing with a screw in his foot to protect a fracture, suffered a hamstring injury Tuesday and didn't finish practice. Mixon is a junior-college transfer who is one of the biggest names of the recruiting class. He arrived in camp overweight.

• Freshman speedster receiver Jeshua Anderson continued to dazzle and had one of the day's best catches.

• Asked which quarterback — Cole Morgan or Kevin Lopina — was No. 3 on the depth chart, QB coach Timm Rosenbach said "both need to step it up." He said it was a tie at the moment. "They are going to get more chances but they need to get it going or we'll give their snaps to one of the freshmen," Rosenbach said. The No. 1 quarterback is Alex Brink and No. 2 is Gary Rogers.

• WSU season-ticket sales are at 13,445, only 19 behind last year at this point. Last year turned out to be the third-highest total in school history with a total of 13,792.

Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or csmith@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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