BILLY NEWMAN at 2001 spring game in Spokane
SPOKANE -- Billy Newman laughs at the question. “The one thing people most often ask me, if they recognize me at all, is ‘What happened to your hair?’,” he chuckles. It’s what happens when a dozen years have come and gone since the last time Cougar football fans saw the standout defensive back wear the crimson and gray.
Newman was a redshirting freshman on the 1998 Rose Bowl team, and he played his final game with the Cougars in the 2001 Sun Bowl.
He ranks in the WSU career top ten for total tackles, with 325, which is memorable. But the way he went out about it, with high energy and unbridled enthusiasm, made him unforgettable to a generation of fans.
Perhaps more impressive is that the former strong safety stood out in a secondary as loaded with talent as any in WSU history. He was part of a sterling corps of Cougar defensive backs that included Lamont Thompson, Marcus Trufant, Jason David and Erik Coleman, all of whom went on to the NFL.
A natural team leader, Newman left an indelible mark on the 2001 team that went beyond his work on the field.
After the 1998 Rose Bowl appearance, the Cougars struggled through three straight losing campaigns. Heading toward his senior season of 2001, Newman collbaorated with junior quarterback Jason Gesser and senior running back Dave Minnich to call a team meeting, minus coaches.
Like the 1997 team that went to the ’98 Rose Bowl, the trio demanded their Cougar teammates remain in Pullman over the summer to prepare for the upcoming season.
The Cougs had come close to a turnaround in 2000, going 4-7 but losing three games in overtime and two others by six or less.
They were so close to a great season, but ultimately came up short time and again.
The extra preparation Newman, Gesser and Minnich spearheaded for 2001 paid off with seven straight wins to open a season that was interrupted by 9/11 and included the cancellation of a game against Colorado at Martin Stadium. WSU finished the regular season 9-2 season and then capped it off with a 33-27 win over Purdue in the Sun Bowl. The 10-win campaign set the stage for the Cougs’ Rose Bowl berth the next year.
NEWMAN IS THE 6TH-LEADING TACKLER IN WSU HISTORY. HE EARNED ALL-PAC-10 SECOND-TEAM OR HONORABLE MENTION RECOGNITION THREE STRAIGHT SEASONS.
After the Sun Bowl, Newman played in both the East-West Shrine game and the All-Star Gridiron Classic. His teammates voted him the annual Bohler Award for inspiration.
“I’ve had people tell me that I was their favorite player, and they tell me that I played with a lot of heart,” he said. “That means a lot to me. I’m honored they remember me.”
In fact, when Cougfan.com marked its 10th anniversary in 2008 with a series of player, team and coach awards, Newman was the choice for most spirited player of the decade.
NEWMAN GAVE THE NFL A SHOT, but at 5-10 he was small for a safety and at 201 pounds way too small for linebacker, and he didn’t have the speed for corner.
He had a short stay with Tennessee, where he got to know current WSU assistant coach Joe Salave’a (then a defensive tackle with the Titans), then a stint in NFL Europe, and finally a mini-comeback with the Spokane Shock in the Arena Football League in 2006.
“It was a challenge, putting my football career behind me,” Newman says. “But I got a good job and I had a family and it was time to start working to build the next part of my life.”
Despite growing up in Southern California, where he was star running back at Santa Margarita High, Newman wanted to settle in the Inland Northwest and planted his roots in Spokane, where these days his only connection to football is through his son, Isaiah, 6.
“I coach his flag football team,” Newman laughs. “I coach his softball team, I coach his soccer team. I’m the designated coach.”
Family is the center of Newman’s life. He married his wife, Angie, over the Thanksgiving break before the 2001 Sun Bowl -- taking a good deal of ribbing from teammates who accused him of holding a wedding so she could make the trip to El Paso, Texas.
The couple have three children, with a fourth on the way. Oldest daughter, Tyler, is 8. The youngest daughter, for the time being, is 3-year-old Bella.
“Bella is adopted and we’re in the process of adopting one more, a 3-month-old,” he said. “We’re excited about it, but I don’t want to jinx it by saying any more about it.”
It’s no surprise that Newman’s career is going strong and he’s established himself as a leader.
“I work at Spokane Industries, and they’ve been great with me,” he says. “It’s a family-run business and they’ve supported me in everything I’ve done. We manufacture steel and I manage one of our three divisions, the sand foundry.”
And he’s still a Coug – and not just at heart.
“I’m enrolled in the M.B.A. program, so I’m still a Cougar,” he said. “It’s a program designed for people who’ve been out working in the real world and want to go back and fill in some of the gaps they may have in order to be better at what they do.”
In other words, he’s applying the same passion and dedication to his post-football career that he displayed on the football field.
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