GARY ROGERS LEADS THE COUGS IN WARMUPS
PULLMAN – Optimism is always alive and well on the first day of practice. Listen closely to the words of WSU players and coaches, however, and it seems apparent that a new coaching staff has injected new life into a program that has hit hard times on and off the field in recent years.
“I think they are more intense, more strict,” junior running back
Dwight Tardy said after a spirited morning workout Tuesday among top returning
players. “They expect more from us.
“It seems like they expect us to be more like men. Like, ‘Grow up
already.’ I think last year, they (the old coaching staff) just kind of
let us slide with a lot of stuff.”
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Senior wide receiver Brandon Gibson said there is “definitely” a
difference in the two coaching staffs.
“I’m not saying last year (the coaches) weren’t upbeat, but these guys,
they’re anxious,” Gibson said. “They’re anxious to get everything going.
They want to prove that we’re ready and that they’re worthy.”
“I like it (the new coaching staff) better,” junior cornerback Devin Giles said. “They teach us a lot of things. It’s very intense; no
walking around, no nothing.”
Paul Wulff, in his first year as head coach at his alma mater, has
repeatedly expressed how important character and discipline
are to his program.
“It’s more important (than football) that we establish good people and
help build these guys’ morals and character and help build their self
esteem,” Wulff said.
He added, “I think a lot of guys have grown up and realize
consequences and understand what they have and what they could
potentially lose … they’ve got to realize they are ‘employees’ of the
State of Washington.”
ON THE FIELD TUESDAY MORNING, Wulff said he was “very pleased” with what he saw at the first official practice since spring. The Cougs will hold split squad practices the first two days -- the younger players have their first practice on Tuesday afternoon.
WULFF WITH THE O-LINE
“They picked up a lot, obviously, over the summer,” Wulff said of the veterans' morning session. Coaches aren’t allowed to be present at the players’ voluntary summer workouts, so the work his troops put in over the last two months obviously set a nice tone for the day.
“We want to do our best and show the coaches we’ve been working hard
all summer,” Gibson said. “I think we did a great job and didn’t
disappoint. Our offense is going to be exciting.”
Wulff and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy are introducing the
hurry-up, no-huddle offense that they used with great success at Eastern
Washington last year.
“We’re so much further ahead (offensively) than we ever were in the
spring, to be quite honest,” Wulff said. “That’s a great indication to
us the players worked extremely hard at it over the summer.”
DON’T PUT TOO MUCH STOCK in one no-contact practice
with players wearing only helmets for equipment, but All-America
candidate Gibson looked like he was in midseason form. One catch was
recorded with a twisting, one-handed effort, and he later blew past
cornerback Romeo Pellum to haul in a perfectly thrown long ball from
Backup quarterback Kevin Lopina later hit Keith Rosenberg with a
perfectly thrown deep pass. Projected starting receiver Daniel Blackledge made some good catches and dropped a couple balls, including
one that deflected into the waiting hands of safety Eric Block.
The practice ran 2 hours -- 30 minutes longer than scheduled. Wide
receiver Jeshua Anderson, who had considered reporting a few days late
after a long track season, was among the players working out in 80ish
temperatures under clear blue skies and a bright sun that took its toll
on some players.
INJURY REPORT: No. 1 punter Reid Forrest, now on scholarship, showed
up with a protective boot on his left foot. Forrest said he originally
believed he suffered a minor sprain of his ankle during punting drills
prior to the July 4 break, but eventually a crack was discovered, and he
underwent surgery to have a pin inserted.
“I’ll be back for the first game,” Forrest said.
Wulff said he hopes Forrest can start practicing next week along with
two players recovering from surgery -- cornerback Markus Dawes
(shoulder) and offensive tackle Joe Eppele (knee).
Tuesday was offensive tackle Steven Ayers, who has been battling an
undiagnosed illness that has affected his balance and energy.
Tardy said his surgically repaired knee is still a bit sore, but he
estimated his speed at “97 percent.” Tardy was held out of some late
drills as a precaution, and Wulff said the team will continue to ease
Tardy back into action.
• College Football Hall of Famer Rueben Mayes recently left his administrative post in the WSU business school to take a similar position at a Eugene hospital. Mayes set an NCAA record, since broken, when he ran for 357 yards against Oregon in 1984.
• The Cougars open the season Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State at Seattle’s Qwest Field. Ticket sales are running well ahead of last season’s Qwest game against San Diego State, which drew 46,000, but at this point half the stadium is still unsold.