PULLMAN -- The Cougars are bigger and stronger than last year. They've looked markedly better in fall camp than they did a year ago, and the future looks bright. And fall camp is a time filled with great plays across the board and fan optimism reigns supreme, and sometimes unchecked. But it's also important to keep a few things in perspective.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published Aug. 18, 2009
PULLMAN -- Paul Sorensen dropped by football practice at Washington State last week. I would have reported this epic event previously, but I thought it impolite to interrupt Paul while he was still talking. Alas, Sorensen finally stopped yakkin’ a couple minutes ago.
This can mean one of two things: 1) He is dead or 2) Somebody said something nice about the Huskies -- a Communist, no doubt -- and he’s too stunned to respond.
The long-standing rumor in Pullman is that Sorensen’s family crest is an image of Paul screaming into someone’s aching ear. Still, you don’t have to listen very long to the 1981 All-American safety to realize that he cherishes his alma mater and its football program -- not necessarily in that order -- and that he knows a heck of a lot more about football than you, you, you and me put together.
Sorensen wants the doubters to know that he is positive -- absolutely, totally certain -- that Paul Wulff and his assistants are excellent coaches who will turn the program around. Sorensen says these are good men who are doing things the right way, and that the end result will be downright glorious.
Wulff never promised that the rebuilding process would take place overnight, and it hasn’t. A 2-11 record in Wulff’s first season was awful, and the freakishly lopsided scores and listless efforts of many players made a bad team almost unwatchable at times.
The truth is, recruiting had hit diminished for years before Wulff arrived, and he was left with a large number of not-up-to-par athletes and questionable characters. It takes time to clean up a mess, and when your players spend more time in the operating room than on the playing field -- as was the case at Wazzu over the past year with more than 40 surgeries-- the mess just keeps getting messier.
One week into fall camp, however, the Cougars appear to be physically and mentally robust. Players and coaches have talked openly about the internal problems on last year’s team, and most or all of those issues appear to be a thing of the past. The coaches know infinitely more about their players than a year ago, and the vast majority of those players seem to realize what Sorensen and other longtime observers of Wulff and his staff have been saying all along: They know how to win. They know how to develop stronger, better, more dedicated football players. They know how to get the job done, period.
Practices are crisper and players look sharper than last season because they have made the sacrifices asked of them by Wulff and his staff.
In other words: Be accountable. Go to class. Eat right. Drink enough fluids. Lift a ton of weights. And when you run somewhere, run like the villagers are chasing you with torches.
Are the Cougars a great football team? Not even close. You don’t win a lot of games in a quality league like the Pac-10 with a team that will be relying heavily on inexperienced quarterbacks, cornerbacks, running backs, linebackers, tight ends, defensive ends, etc.
Still, help is on the way. Cal transfers James Montgomery and Brandon Jones look good. Freshmen like Gino Simone and Jeff Tuel -- aka The Quarterback of the Future -- look great. Dwight Tardy is running the ball like his old self now that his knee is sound. A promising group of receivers will be coached up by a man (Mike Levenseller) who combines passion, knowledge and caring as well as any coach in any sport. A defense that has nowhere to go but up will do so under the leadership of a man (Chris Ball) whose love for the game echoes off stadium walls. The man in charge of the offense (Todd Sturdy) is an offensive guru whose no-huddle attack will flourish once he’s equipped with the proper weapons.
Be patient, Coug fans. One more year -- that’s all it will take to get the Cougars back to a bowl game. It will be worth the wait.
Howie Stalwick is a longtime Pacific Northwest sports writer who covers Washington State for Cougfan.com. He also covers the Cougars and other sports subjects for a number of newspapers, magazines and websites throughout the country.