Norrell confident; Andy wooed; Ball hailed

KEVIN NORRELL

PULLMAN -- Judging from his outstanding play in fall camp, Washington State's Kevin Norrell may be ready to emerge as one of the top young receivers in the Pac-10. If he does have a breakout season, Norrell won't be the least bit surprised.

"I'm coming along, and I'm loving every single minute," the speedy sophomore said. "I know I'm only going to get better, too."

The latter comment also applies to his teammates, said Norrell, who made a spectacular catch in Friday's scrimmage that was ruled -- perhaps incorrectly -- out of bounds.

"I know we're going to win a lot more football games this year," Norrell said. "I know we want to go ‘bowl-ing,' so you know we have to be in the top or ‘mid-top' of the Pac-10.

"We're working our way back to the top. Whether it be this season or the next couple of seasons, I know we're going to be at the top sooner or later. It's only a matter of time."

The 6-foot, 190-pound Norrell hails from national prep powerhouse Long Beach Poly.

-- Mattingly scouted: Last week, we reported that WSU running back Dwight Tardy has twice turned down the Kansas City Royals when they tried to lure him into pro baseball.

It turns out that the Royals wanted Cougar linebacker Andy Mattingly to join Tardy when a scout gave Tardy an individual workout last spring in Pullman. Mattingly was forced to pass, however, after he tore a pectoral muscle in spring football practice.

"I love baseball," said Mattingly, who was a standout outfielder at Mead High School in Spokane. "It's a lot of fun. But I'm a football player."

Like Tardy, Mattingly said he's open to the idea of trying pro baseball if things don't work out in pro football. Tardy, also an outfielder, starred in high school baseball in California.

"We always joke around about baseball because we don't know who's the better baseball player," Mattingly said with a smile. "I think I am."

Mattingly said he's so focused on football, he doesn't even want to think about baseball.

"I can promise you one thing: We're going to compete every game," Mattingly said. "Last year, I don't know if we did that.

"We'll leave just everything on the field. We'll be a completely different team than you saw last year. That's one thing I can promise."

-- No surprise: The Cougars gave up a school-record 570 points last season (43.8 per game) as players struggled to adapt to the demands and schemes of a new coaching staff.

Despite WSU's struggles on defense, Sporting News magazine recently named co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ball the best position coach in the Pac-10. Cougar players say Ball is quite deserving of the honor.

"I agree with that totally," junior safety Chima Nwachukwu said.

"Coach Ball is the best coach I've ever played for," Mattingly said.

"Coach Ball is personable with everybody and he's straightforward," Nwachukwu said. "That's something you don't get from a lot of coaches.

"A lot of coaches will beat around the bush with you, but Coach Ball, if you're not doing something right, he'll tell you. If you're not going to play, he'll tell you. If he doesn't like your attitude, he'll tell you. If you're doing something right, he'll thank you for it."

Mattingly and Nwachukwu said there was nothing wrong with WSU's defensive game plans last season, but there was plenty wrong with the attitude and focus of some players.

"A lot of guys were on the fence," Nwachukwu said. "Me included. I was on the fence at the beginning, but I made the right decision and decided to come on with the coaching staff."

"People were doing their own thing," Mattingly said. "They weren't doing their proper assignments.

"This year, everyone has bought in. We have solid group of leaders that's taken control.

"People are doing what they're supposed to do. They're not worried about other people's jobs, they're doing their own jobs. It's helping out a lot."

-- Memory lane: Bob Robertson is a Hall of Fame football broadcaster, but he's the first to admit he was no Hall of Fame football player.

The longtime radio voice of the Cougars, 80 years young, said his college football career consisted of limited action as a two-way tackle "and a little bit of linebacker" his freshman year at Western Washington in 1947.

Robertson turned out again his sophomore year. However, Western coach Chuck Lappenbusch stopped Robertson in his tracks after learning that Robertson had signed a professional baseball contract with the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League.

"We're happy for you," Robertson recalls Lappenbusch telling him, "but would you clean out your locker?"

Robertson did not realize that athletes could not play in college if they signed a pro contract in another sport. That rule has since been changed, which explains how Washington Huskies quarterback Jake Locker recently signed a pro baseball contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

The Beavers assigned Robertson to Salem, Ore., in the old Western International League, a forefather of the modern Northwest League. Robertson was already dabbling in broadcasting, however, and when a job opened up as the play-by-play broadcaster for the WIL's Wenatchee Chiefs, Robertson quit school and headed to Wenatchee before he ever played pro baseball.

Stayed tuned this week for a story detailing some of Robertson's most memorable WSU games and players in his four decades as the Voice of the Cougars.

-- Bruce signs: Former Cougar defensive end Mkristo Bruce has signed with the Florida Tuskers, the Orlando entry in the new United Football League. Bruce was cut by the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars prior to training camp.

-- Abercrombie prevails: Thomas Abercrombie got the best of Aron Baynes in a showdown between former Cougar basketball players when the New Zealand national team beat arch-rival Australia for just the eighth time. The win gave New Zealand its first Oceania championship since 2001.

Abercrombie started at wing and scored eight points. Baynes went scoreless and played just 53 seconds in a reserve role. The burly center was benched after firing an errant 3-pointer that got the crowd riled up early in the game in Wellington, New Zealand.

Baynes was born in New Zealand and spent most of his life in Australia. He was sought by New Zealand, but chose to play with Australia before leaving for Lithuania's pro league.

-- Conley honored: WSU sophomore Adam Conley was named the best pro prospect, top pitcher and rookie of the year in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

Conley, a hard-throwing left-hander out of Olympia, enjoyed a spectacular summer with the spectacularly named Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats. In eight games (four starts) and 34 1/3 innings, Conley gave up just one run -- it was unearned -- and 14 hits. He fanned 37 and walked 11.

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