With Luapo done, here's how d-line shapes up

BRANDON RANKIN

WASHINGTON STATE DT Josh Luapo has rendered himself academically ineligible for the upcoming football season, according to reliable sources close to the program. The 6-0, 311-pound fifth-year senior played in four games during his WSU career but was expected to compete for a notable role in 2010. His departure creates an opportunity for some younger guns, one they already took to this spring.

WSU's sports information department said Monday it was not aware of a change in Josh Luapo's status, but a pair of well-placed sources confirmed to CF.C that the Torrance, Calif. native will be academically ineligible to play next season.

How will it affect the Cougs? Not as big a blow as one might think, and not like Cougar fans have become accustomed to in recent times.

Unlike the last two years, WSU now has some depth on the defensive line. It's not as deep as it will be, but it's a marked improvement from where the Cougs were.

WSU, in Year 3 of the Paul Wulff regime, can now withstand a long-term injury, or a player not meeting academic qualifications, considerably better than the past two years. Previously, losing just a single d-lineman was enough to wreak havoc, such was the egregious lack of depth up front -- and really, team-wide.

But with Luapo not participating in the recently concluded 15-practice session while rehabbing a knee injury, the Cougs looked to have found the ability to put a good rotation together across the defensive line this spring.

Brandon Rankin came in still working himself back into shape, but he established himself this spring as a starting-caliber Pac-10 defensive tackle. Bernard Wolfgramm also looked better than he has at any time since he arrived at Washington State -- he had been limited by a lingering back injury suffered shortly after arriving at WSU. But now free of pain, he moved much better and looked rock solid, when he was out there..

Wolfgramm didn't participate the entire spring, missing several practices in order to hit the books. The Seattle Times earlier reported Wolfgramm and Luapo had considerable work to do. Sources with knowledge of the situation told CF.C that while Luapo's situation was very pessimistic, Wolfgramm's situation was promising.

If things play out as they're trending, Rankin and Wolfgramm came out of the spring looking like quality Pac-10 starters and behind them, and just as importantly, Anthony Laurenzi and Justin Clayton showed the ability to come in and give the Cougs quality turns.

And now you've got four d-tackles who can rotate without substantial drop-off, and Dan Spitz is also in the mix. WSU has not had anything close to that kind of depth the past two seasons.

At defensive end, Kevin Kooyman and Travis Long looked good this spring, and big things are expected from rising redshirt freshman d-end Sekope Kaufusi this year (and beyond).

The Cougs could do with one more d-end, in addition to those three, making a big leap in fall camp. But they also have some guys who had moments this spring, like Casey Hamlett.

Bottom line coming out of spring ball? Based on the spring performances, even without Luapo, the defensive line could prove this season to be the most improved position on the entire Cougars' team.

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