Oct. 5, 2000
By Mike Kreiger, WSU Sports Information
The sport of football, from Pop Warner to the collegiate level, is all about discipline.
For Washington State football players Dave Minnich and Wendell Smith, discipline comes from an altogether different source. Both players spent four years of their lives in the Marine Corps. Although their paths never really crossed in the service, they are forever linked as brothers. Now they are at Washington State University, and they are joined together as teammates.
Smith, a sophomore from Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, made a name for himself in the Marines. He was stationed at Marine Barracks 8th and I (the oldest post in the Corps) in Washington, D.C., where only the top three percent of the Marines get placed. Smith's spotless criminal record and his background history made him an obvious selection. He was honored as a member of the "World Famous Body Bearers," and his duties included infantry and carrying caskets at over 400 funerals of prominent Marines' veterans and United States' congressmen. Smith was also a bouncer at clubs in the D.C., area for extra income on the weekends, whenever the job did not interfere with his Marine duties.
While stationed in Washington, D.C., from 1995 to 1999, Smith was a member of the Presidential Ceremonial Honor Guard during parades and inaugurations. He still vividly remembers being there for President Clinton's second inaugural address.
"Oh man, that was cold," Smith said. "You don't understand. Being on the top of Capitol Hill in January with the wind blowing was freezing."
Smith, a reserve defensive back and special teams player, likes to keep a low profile, but he cannot hide from his claim to fame. Wearing number 38 in last season's Homecoming game against California, Smith recovered a blocked-punt and delivered the knockout punch to the Golden Bears. It was a moment he'll never forget.
"It was one of the highlights of my life," Smith said. "It's something that you dream of."
Minnich, from Connecticut, is a transfer from Mt. San Jacinto Junior College, where he was named to the California JC All-America team. He was among the state leaders in rushing yards and touchdowns after both his freshman and sophomore seasons.
But life was not always so good for Minnich. Before joining the Marines or attending college, he had various dead-end jobs. He worked as a valet parker for a casino, and he was also a cook at a fast food restaurant.
"I was just nasty. I was waking up at noon. I'd be up until three in the morning. I was drinking all the time. I had no discipline."
Then everything changed.
"I think it was two or three weeks after I found out my wife was pregnant when I enlisted in the Marines. I joined the Marines because I was about to be a dad, and I couldn't have been a dad like that," Minnich said.
He was stationed in South Carolina for boot camp, and then went to North Carolina for Marine Combat Training. Next he headed to California for MOS (field communications wiring) training. After all that training, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California.
"I did numerous things there. In 1995, I went to Qatar for 35 days. Then I was put on Service Support Group. We got put on ship for six months, and we went to Singapore, Malaysia, Oman, Kuwait, and Australia."
Smith and Minnich both learned invaluable life lessons from their experiences. Things like paying attention to detail, persevering, and having a strong work ethic will help somebody advance rank in the services. It is these qualities that make them the strong men who they are today, much changed from the immature boys they were when they entered the service.
"What I learned was more than I could ever ask from anyone else," Smith said. "That's where I got tough. I came in there at 175 pounds (the average weight being 250), so I had to hang with the big boys. By the time I got out, I was in charge of that platoon."
"They're more disciplined," coach Mike Price said about Minnich and Smith. "I think what they are is more appreciative of what we have here compared to what they've had where they come from. I think they sincerely appreciate being treated with dignity and respect. People here do things for them where in the Marines they pretty much do things themselves. You've got a guy wrapping ankles, people watching over your shoulder and giving you aspirin if you have a headache."
The hard work and discipline they learned in the Marines is permanently engrained. "I can get up early in the morning for classes, and it doesn't really bother me," Minnich said. "I'm never late for anything."
"There's always a little more in you," Smith said. "You can be tired, and you can be mentally drained, but if the job ain't done, you've got to find it in you. When we're tired from running and lifting, there's always that second wind in you. If it ain't the second wind, it's gotta be the third or the fourth," Smith said with a laugh.
Both players are leaders on the football team, but they are not of the vocal variety. They both learned to lead with work ethic, and people will follow.
"In the Marines, you can't really talk trash," Minnich said. "You just kind of go out there and do your job. I just go out and do my job, and then I relax after the game. I don't say a lot and I rarely have motivational speeches because anybody can say anything about how big and bad they are. The big thing is to go out there and do it."
"You've got to be a good follower to be a good leader," he said. "There's authoritative leadership and there's persuasive leadership, and the Marines easily taught me when to use each at the right time. If people see your leadership and background history, they will follow you anywhere to get to victory."
The coaching staff has noticed the Marines' leadership styles and has utilized their strengths.
"It's nice to have them on the team," Price said. "They can say, `What, you griping about that, buddy? You don't know what hard work means. You don't want to get up in the morning and do that? I've had to jog six miles in a rainstorm before you even got your butt out of bed. Young man, you don't know what hard work is.' It's nice to have that kind of leadership and those kinds of remarks being made in the locker room to toughen up kids. It's nice when someone like them can say it rather than some old man like me."
Both men have goals in sight, and they both realize their goals are probably clear because of the Marines.
Smith, a very mellow guy, is in the process of earning a mechanical engineering degree. After graduation, he would like to join the U.S. Marshals.
"That's something I'd really like to do," Smith said. "I think I have a good background for that. They like guys with military experience, a college education, and an engineering degree."
If that doesn't work out, Smith would like to get a commercial pilot degree, which takes about six months to get a license.
Minnich has his plans set, and they definitely include his family. He and his wife Kristin have been married for almost six years. They have two children, David (six) and Clayton (four).
"My immediate goal is to get my degree so I can go out and teach," Minnich said with a smile. "I want to teach high school history and coach football. We'll probably go back home to Connecticut."
Both players have had help along the way. Smith credits his father for pushing him to be a better person.
"He is a tough son of a gun," Smith said. "He also was number 21 when he played for Montana. Knowing his history, I don't know of anyone who can compare to what he's been through. He's my hero."
Minnich has a long list of supporters, including his coaches and family.
"I got a lot of help from my parents, Dave and Kathleen," Minnich said. "Also my brother, my high school coach Bob Mitchell, all my JC coaches, my wife and my kids."
Price and the WSU coaching staff usually expect a lot out of their football players, and Smith and Minnich are no exception.
"I expect them to be good football players, good citizens and good students. As long as they're doing that, any of these other things are just gravy. I think just being a good team member and being part of the team is important, and they learned that in the Marines."
Here are two players from two parts of the country with two completely different stories. There is just one glowing similarity...the Cougar football team and Washington State University are lucky to have a few good men like Dave Minnich and Wendell Smith.