By Trevor Williams
For WSU linebacker Tana Pritchard, being a Cougar came easy.
“I’ve been bleeding crimson and gray since I can first remember,” said Pritchard.
Being a Pac-12 linebacker? Ask the 6-3 redshirt-sophomore and he’ll tell you that it’s anything but easy.
“It goes all the way back to my parents,” he said. “They brought me up to work hard and taught me no matter what you’re doing, to just give it your all.”
For Pritchard, family encouragement stems not only from philosophy, but from experience, as his dad, brother, and uncle have all played Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) football.
“My dad played in the 1981 Holiday Bowl for the Cougs and my uncle Jack (Thompson) played just before that, so I’ve been coming to games since I was three years old,” he said.
Uncle Jack, as Pritchard calls him, is known to Cougar fans as Jack Thompson, ‘The Throwin Samoan.’ Likewise, Pritchard’s brother Tavita is known for his arm. He tossed a game-winning touchdown for Stanford in 2007 in a signature upset win over USC that prematurely ended the Trojans’ bid for a perfect season.
Throughout high school, Pritchard played the same position as his brother and Uncle Jack, lining up under center for Clover Park. However, when he arrived at WSU, coaches led the Lakewood native in a new direction.
“I grew up playing quarterback – didn’t play a lot of linebacker – so coming here I knew it was going to be a lot of work just because it was a new position for me,” said Pritchard. “I knew from the start that I was going to have to work harder than everybody else because I didn’t know exactly what I was doing.”
To start, Pritchard focused on making up for what he did not know with effort. He then quickly realized the lessons he learned from his dad, uncle and brother could cross over to the defensive side of the football.
“The linebacker is the leader of the defense and growing up playing quarterback, I was definitely a leader of the team in high school,” said Pritchard. “That’s what my dad and my uncle and brother instilled in me from an early age."
During his redshirt season in 2011, Pritchard put his leadership qualities to the test and was named WSU’s Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year, after earning a team-best five Cougar Scout Team Defensive Player of the Week honors. This led to a redshirt-freshman season in which he saw playing time in 11 games, mainly on special teams. In 2013, Pritchard again made a habit of finding his way into the rotation defensively. As he started to heat up down the stretch, he earned his first career starts against Utah and Washington prior to starting in the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State.
To kick off the 2014 spring season, Pritchard now finds himself at the top of the depth chart at the WILL linebacker spot.
“It’s been awesome,” Pritchard said of the opportunity. “I’ve had guys who’ve played ahead of me who were well deserved playing ahead of me. They were just better linebackers. That’s the only reason that I’m in the position that I’m in. It’s because I’ve had the chance to learn from guys who were a lot better than me.”
For Pritchard and the WSU defense it has always been a learning experience.
“We’ve seen the steps taken since our class arrived here and we’ve taken the losses to heart and don’t want those to happen anymore,” he said. “We’ve been doing everything we can to progress and get better. Just coming out here and working every day is motivation enough to get better.”
Pritchard’s love for the game only burns hotter as he aims to write his own chapter in the Pac-12 history books.
“Growing up, I wanted to be just like my brother and Uncle Jack and my dad, so I’ve just been blessed to have the opportunity,” he said.
What lies ahead for the 2014 Cougars and Pritchard is still unknown, although the Cougar linebacker has a good feeling.
“We love being out here,” he said. “We’re really excited because this group of guys has something special and I don’t take that lightly.”