PULLMAN — Steve Sarkisian and Dennis Simmons will be on opposite sidelines during Friday’s Apple Cup at Husky Stadium. Though they coach rival schools, it will be the only time this year they aren’t rooting each other on, ignoring the interstate competition in favor of an old friend.
“I’ll cheer for him when we’re not playing against him,” Simmons, Washington State’s outside receivers coach, said of Washington’s coach. “And I’m sure he does the same for me when we’re not playing each other.”
Their friendship stems from their time together as teammates at BYU. Simmons was a three-year starter at outside linebacker, while Sarkisian was the quarterback.
“He was really a good player,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of fellow BYU graduate Sarkisian. “He was unique as far as BYU quarterbacks. I don’t have him as fast, but he had good feet. Sarkisian threw it pretty well on the move, and I honestly always thought he was one of the most underrated guys that played at BYU.”
Sarkisian and Simmons started on the 1996 BYU team that began the season unranked but finished No. 5 in the country with a 14-1 record. The team’s only defeat that season came at Husky Stadium, when Sarkisian was sacked eight times in a 29-17 loss to Washington.
Even though Sarkisian and Simmons played on opposite sides of the ball, they had one common trait that brought them together: At a school where 98 percent of the enrolled students are members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, neither was a practitioner.
“There are not too many non-LDS players on that roster,” Sarkisian said. “So the ones who aren’t, you probably hang a little closer to when you get your chances.”
While shared cultural isolation might have given the two something in common, Simmons said teammate camaraderie trumped any external boundaries that might have arisen.
“I mean, our team was a pretty tight-knit unit, especially that last year,” Simmons said. “We always hung out together, LDS guys and non-LDS guys. The religious factor really didn’t factor into it. He was a teammate, and I was a teammate, so we all just kind of hung together.”
Sarkisian completed 69 percent of his passes that year to go along with 33 touchdowns and won second-team All-America honors.
Leach said Sarkisian made his mark at a school that churned out QBs such as Steve Young, Ty Detmer, Jim McMahon and Robbie Bosco.
“He’s in the middle of all those guys but distinguished himself, I thought, really good, and just really had a knack for making the right play at the right time,” Leach said.
These days, Simmons and Sarkisian cross paths only when they are competing on the field or for recruiting, but they keep tabs on each other’s careers.
When Simmons joined Leach’s staff in 2012, the former teammates became rivals, albeit friendly ones.
“I’m proud of him,” Simmons said. “I’m proud to have played with him, and I cheer for him every time they play except when they’re playing against us.”