A year ago, former Washington State linebacker and defensive end Malik Roberson stood on the Portland State sidelines in Pullman, urging his players onward in a 59-21 loss to the Cougars at the same place where he once wore the WSU uniform.
This time around, Roberson will be calling the defensive signals for the Vikings, a member of the FCS Big Sky Conference, when they invade Martin Stadium for the 2015 season opener for both teams on Sept. 5 (11 a.m. PT, Pac-12 Network).
Shortly after Bruce Barnum was named interim head coach for Portland State in early December (Note: Since PSU did not have a permanent AD at the time, Barnum was given a one-year deal), he dismissed Jaime Hill and promoted Roberson to defensive coordinator in order to install a more aggressive scheme that seeks ways to attack the offensive backfield and disrupt the quarterback.
For Roberson, the early September matchup between the Cougars and Portland State represents a sort of homecoming as the Spokane native played two seasons for WSU in 1990-91 before transferring to Central Washington.
Later, moving over from Eastern Washington along with head coach Paul Wulff, Roberson coached the Cougars defensive line for three seasons (2008-10). He left for his first of two coaching stints at Portland State in 2011.
In short, Roberson doesn’t need a map to find Pullman. It also goes without saying he relishes the opportunity to knock off Washington State on the first weekend of the 2015 season.
“I couldn’t ask for any opportunity better than that,” Roberson said. “Debuting as a defensive coordinator at a place where I played and worked previously, we’re definitely looking forward to that. It’s just another stepping stone to where we’re trying to get to. We’re trying not to get too caught up in it, but there are some personal aspects that make it a big game for myself.”
Roberson, though, is hardly the lone Portland State coach with Washington State connections. Vikings offensive line coach A.C. Patterson is the son of former WSU defensive line coach Andre Patterson, who served two seasons under Mike Price in 1992-93. His success with the Cougars earned him the head coaching job at Cal Poly from 1994-96.
Andre Patterson is now the defensive line coach for the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL.
The 23-year old A.C. Patterson, one of the youngest full-time assistant coaches in the country, was born in Pullman in May 1993.
“I’ll be going back home, which is actually kind of cool,” Patterson said. “I haven’t been there in a long time. I was just born there.”
Simultaneous with Andre Patterson’s employment by Washington State in the early 1990s, Portland State safeties coach and recruiting coordinator John Ely served as recruiting coordinator and video coordinator for the Cougs.
Another connection between Patterson and Washington State: he signed out of high school with UTEP, then coached by Price, but multiple knee injuries ended his playing career prematurely.
Besides Roberson, Patterson and Ely, Portland State defensive line coach Jason Belford was an All-Big Sky defensive end for Eastern Washington in 2008 under Wulff and served first as a student assistant and then graduate assistant for the Cougars from 2009-11 before accepting his first full-time coaching position at Weber State in 2012.
Following Wulff’s dismissal, Belford remained in Pullman in order to help Mike Leach and his staff get acclimated during the transition period following his hire by the Cougars in late November 2011.
Hired by Portland State as assistant defensive line coach in 2014, Belford now oversees the entire Vikings defensive line in the wake of Roberson’s promotion to chief defensive play-caller.
“It is always good to go back to a place where you have been and play against (your former team),” Belford said.
In last year’s meeting between the Cougars and Vikings, WSU entered the contest in desperate need of a victory following disappointing season-opening losses to Rutgers and Nevada. The Cougars erupted for three touchdowns in the second quarter – all coming on passes from quarterback Connor Halliday – to grab a 28-0 halftime lead.
When Portland State closed the gap to 35-14 by the end of the third quarter, WSU pulled away late as Halliday connected with Isiah Myers and Dom Williams for 55-yard and 84-yard TD throws, respectively, within a span of 2:35 midway through the fourth quarter.
Reach Scott Hood at ScottHood63@gmail.com