When Trandon Harvey caught a short pass from Alex Brink and raced down the left sidelines for the winning touchdown in the 2005 Apple Cup, Darrin Friberg, as many Cougar fans like him, stood and cheered wildly.
However, unlike many Cougars, Friberg wasn’t celebrating his team’s victory in Seattle, the state of Washington, or even in this country.
He was in Iraq, serving as a member of the Army Reserves.
“I was able to catch the highlight of the winning touchdown,” he said. “I saw it at the chow hall. There weren’t too many Coug fans there but I was cheering.”
Friberg has more of a connection with the Cougar Football team than just a cheering fan; in a way, as he has given to his country, Cougar Football has provided Friberg a realization of a dream.
“It was the greatest two years of my life,” he said, “of just living this dream, of being able to be on the field and not in the stands, of just being able to be a part of something I always dreamed of doing.”
For an individual who has donned the uniform of the United States military, it was donning the Cougar Football uniform that served as a fulfillment of a lifelong ambition for Friberg.
The fact that Friberg, 23, was able to achieve his dream of being a member of the WSU Cougar football team during two seasons, 2006 & 2007, is made even more poignant by the fact of where he came from and where he is returning to.
As a senior at Lake Washington High School, Friberg enlisted in the Army Reserves. He viewed it not only as an opportunity to serve his country but to advance his career.
Upon graduation, Friberg went through basic training in the summer of 2003. After returning, he enrolled at WSU and attended classes in the spring of 2004. But just as his college experience was beginning, he was called to service.
“I got one semester in and I had to start training during the summer to go to Iraq,” Friberg said.
In January of 2005, he left the States for Kuwait en route to Iraq.
During his year in the country, Friberg’s duties were centered on logistics, that is, he was responsible for the movement of materials from one base to another base.
“A lot of road time, a lot of driving,” he said.
Through it all, he was always on guard for the ever-present danger that existed.
“A bomb or bullet doesn’t discriminate, you can be infantry or you can be a cook, it really doesn’t matter,” he said. “You can drive 100 times and never get hit, or you can drive once and get hit.
“It’s that whole uncertainty. You can never be relaxed.”
When he returned in January of 2006, Friberg took some time to ease back into life, and realized how much of a different individual he became than who he was a year earlier.
“Before I went over there I was the average freshman student, just riding by the seat of my pants,” he explained. “Going over there and seeing how, if you’re born a farmer, you are going to be a farmer. If you are born this, you are going to be this. There is no horizontal movement. You are what you are when you’re born.”
“Coming back and being over there I was able to see the opportunity that college gives you to advance and become more than what your potential was,” Friberg added. “There are no barriers. That whole year really changed my outlook. For me, I became a person who let things happen to one who made things happen.”
And it was this new-found philosophy that inspired him to walk-on the Cougar Football team.
Having enrolled back into WSU in the summer of 2006, Friberg took the advice of his younger brother, Scott, an offensive lineman on the team.
“It was that whole mentality after coming back from Iraq: taking advantage of opportunities,” Friberg said.
“Scott just told me ‘Hey, give it a shot,'” Friberg continued. “I worked out hard and gave it shot and they said you can make the team.”
An offensive lineman in high school, Friberg walked-on as a linebacker. His 6-foot-1, 190 pound frame made him undersized for the position; however, as then coach Bill Doba was quoted as saying in an April 13, 2007 Seattle Times story, “How can you tell a kid who served his country in Iraq that he can’t walk on? You be the guy to tell him, I’m not going to tell him . . . He’s tough, he’s a little light, but he is a good addition to the team.”
After spending a year in Iraq and the challenges that service presented, Friberg found football to be a welcomed alternative. “It’s football, it’s fun. Nobody shooting at you; you’re not going to die.” he said. “Once being in that over there, the stress level is totally different. School and football is a stress level I could easily handle.”
Through his military and football experiences, Friberg discovered similarities between the two that he has been able to apply in his service to both disciplines.
“The preparation for it, mentally,” Friberg said. “I guess you can say there is a switch that you have to turn. The first time you go over there you are trying to find the switch. Now it’s there and you just got to tweak it.
“In football, they do promote individual greatness, but if the overall team can’t flip the switch and be together, then you can only have one person being good and everybody else not working together,” Friberg explained. “It’s the same in the military, you have to be able to be cohesive and you have to be able to stop thinking what’s good for me and think what’s good for we.”
And though Friberg did not see any game action, the experience of just being on the Martin Stadium field in a Cougar uniform served as the realization of an ambition he held since he was a child.
“My grandparents went to WSU, my aunt and uncle and cousins went to WSU,” he said. “I went to football games as a kid and I thought it would be icing on the cake to play. I never thought I’d have the opportunity to live a dream basically.”
The living of this dream was entering the third year for Friberg when the reality of his military responsibilities returned, as he was called back to service for a second tour in Iraq, which will begin in January.
When he returns to Iraq, Friberg expects to see a much different country than when he left in 2006.
“I was over there once and I’m going over there again,” he said. “There are disagreeing opinions of why we should be over there or why we went; but if you’re on the ground over there we’ve done a lot of good. I have witnessed the hospitality of the people.”
And when he returns from this tour, Friberg is unsure whether he will return to the football team to continue his dream.
“I am going to try, but, the way the military works, I’m not sure how much the body will endure when I am over there . . . how much will be left in the tank after another year,” he explained.
And though he has not been living his dream on the Martin Stadium field this season, Friberg has lived it from afar, just like in 2005 when cheering his Cougars in the Apple Cup.
“My dad texts me updates all the time; whenever I get a chance to get on the internet or watch TV I am always looking for the highlight or bottom line score,” he said.
And he won’t be alone in his cheering.
“I have a couple of Cougars who are deploying with me; we have our own little clan of about 24 of us from eastern Washington who will keep track of our Cougs.”