“We’ve got to get meaner,” Mike Leach told about 100 WSU boosters at a Monday luncheon at the Red Lion Inn at the Park hotel. “I mean, we’re a team of gentlemen. There’s a nastiness to this game.”
Leach said he’s “real impressed” with many of the young players on his first Cougars team, but the “older guys are a little more defeatist.” Players like senior linebacker Travis Long are “really doing a good job” of providing leadership, Leach said, but others fall short in that department.
“I think in order to be a good leader in football, you have to really love football,” Leach said. “I think that’s No. 1. I think there’s a handful of guys in our case that don’t love football.”
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Afterwards, Leach confirmed that he plans to stick with his plan to restore senior QB Jeff Tuel to the starting lineup at No. 19 Stanford (TV: Pac-12 Networks, 3:15 p.m.) Tuel hasn’t started since injuring a knee in the second game of the season, but he played most of the way in WSU’s most recent game, a 31-17 loss to California on Oct. 13, when interceptions continued to haunt Connor Halliday.
Leach said former safety Anthony Carpenter has beat out Damante Horton for a starting cornerback job. Horton, who tied for the Pac-12 lead with four interceptions last year, did not play against California after starting the first six games.
THE COUGARS are tied with Western Michigan for second in the nation with 14 interceptions thrown. Maybe it’s something in the water: Idaho leads the nation with 15 interceptions.
Truthfully, WSU’s high interceptions count has more to do with the fact that the Cougars rank fourth in the nation in pass attempts (351), last in rushing attempts (142) and seventh in most quarterback sacks allowed (24).
On the positive side, safety Deone Bucannon ranks second in the Pac-12 in tackles (60) and is tied for second in interceptions (four). The latter figure is good for fourth nationally.
Long is tied for third in the Pac-12 and 10th in the nation with 7 1-2 sacks.
True freshman Teondray Caldwell stands second in the conference and 23rd in the country with 26.8 yards per kickoff return. That’s fifth best in school history.
LEACH CONTINUES TO sing the praises of Brett Bartolone. The 5-foot-10, 179-pound wide receiver, starting as a true freshman, ranks third on the Cougars with 33 receptions and three touchdown catches.
“He’s really a tough individual,” Leach said at Monday’s luncheon. “It’s not like there’s all this flash to him. He’s just a real steady, consistent, tough person.
“If he walked in here, you wouldn’t really even recognize him as a football player necessarily. I mean, he is, but he just looks some kid walking through here. You’d stop him to get you more coffee.
LEACH ALSO SINGLED out two players who are redshirting, cornerback Alex Jackson and offensive lineman Eduardo Middleton, for good work.
Leach said Jackson is “probably the fastest guy on our team.” The coach said Middleton “does a heck of a job.”
Leach said Jackson would have played this season if not for a delay in his academic clearance by the NCAA. Leach said coaches considered playing Middleton, even though he’s only 17 years old.
THE COUGARS HAVE been outscored by only four points in first halves (108-104), but the difference is 105-44 after halftime.
“We’re a little too satisfied, I think, with playing it close and not getting run out of there,” Leach said. “That’s not what we’re after.”
WSU junior Marquess Wilson needs 154 yards to crack the top 10 in Pac-12 Conference career receiving yards (3,188). He’s five away from the top 25 in career catches (180).
Stanford coach David Shaw said he’s certain Leach’s pass-happy offense will eventually succeed in Pullman. “The longer he’s there, the better this team is going to be,” Shaw said.
Leach said left tackle Gunnar Eklund, a redshirt freshman, has been WSU’s best offensive lineman of late.
IN HOOPS, Klay Thompson wrapped up a strong preseason performance for the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday, but the two other Washington State products in NBA training camps did not fare nearly as well. The Memphis Grizzlies waived guard Kyle Weaver this week, and the Dallas Mavericks released guard Josh Akognon.
Weaver scored seven points in three exhibition games; Akognon did not see any game time. Weaver, who has NBA experience, played in Germany last season. Akognon, who has yet to play in the NBA, was one of the leading scorers in China the past two seasons.
Thompson, a guard who made the All-NBA Rookie first team last season, ranks 17th in NBA preseason scoring with 14.0 points per game. He’s sixth in 3-pointers made per game (2.5) and 13th in 3-pointers attempted (5.1). His 48.8 shooting percentage on 3’s ranks 26th.
ON THE BASEBALL DIAMOND, Washington State American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame will induct its first class Nov. 3 in SeaTac, and the Washington State Cougars will be well represented.
Former Cougars and major leaguers John Olerud, Mark Hendrickson and Dave Edler will be inducted along with ex-Coug Bryan “Busher” Lewis. He founded Bellingham’s American Legion baseball program in 1929. The other 21 players to be inducted (plus Yakima’s 1953 American Legion World Series championship team) include National Baseball Hall of Fame members Ryne Sandberg, Earl Averill and Ron Santo.
Sandberg, an All-American quarterback at Spokane’s North Central High School, planned to play football and quarterback at WSU before he was drafted and signed by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Matt Way, whose work ethic and determination at Washington State earned him high praise, has been rewarded for those qualities by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The D-backs signed Way to a minor league contract after the Alaska native revived his pro career by going to the independent American Association this past summer after being released in spring training by the Phillies. Way posted a 10-7 record, 3.98 earned run average and 112 strikeouts in 128 2-3 innings with the Laredo (Texas) Lemurs. Way was second in the league in strikeouts and tied for fourth in wins.
Independent leagues veteran Jesse Hoorelbeke led the Atlantic League with 20 home runs. The former Coug first baseman hit .279 with 53 RBIs in 100 games for the Somerset (N.J.) Patriots.
And WSU product Adam Conley was named the seventh-best left-handed pitching prospect in the minor leagues in a poll of minor league players by MinorLeagueBaseball.com.
Conley, Miami’s second-round draft pick last in 2011 posted an 11-5 record with 135 strikeouts in 127 innings for two Class A teams in his first full season of pro ball. He went 7-3 with a 2.78 ERA at Greensboro (N.C.) in the South Atlantic League and 4-2 with a 4.44 ERA at Jupiter (Fla.) in the Florida State League.