Washington State spring football practice is just about halfway through the schedule. Up to this point, the evolution of Coach Paul Wulff’s team has mirrored the recent weather in the Palouse.
Translation: There have been some nice days and there have been some bad days. That's spring in the Palouse.
Coach Wulff and his staff are dedicated to moving their team forward through the implementation of football philosophies they believe in.
Wulff knows what works. He’s enjoyed success on the college gridiron before and is focused on building a successful football program for WSU again.
When Coach Wulff took over the Washington State program prior to last spring, he brought with him an offensive approach that has gained popularity on the college football scene of late.
He believes in running a no-huddle style. That’s what everyone, including WSU coaches, expected to see in action last year.
The no-huddle happened. Then it didn’t.
"We believe that the no-huddle offense is the best for what we want to do but after injuries last year and our youth, we had to get away from it. It will be back this spring and key to our offensive development." - Coach Paul Wulff
Defying the odds, lightning struck the Cougar quarterback depth chart last season like a thunderstorm rolling across Tornado Alley in the Midwest in springtime. The Cougs lost two quarterbacks with spine fractures in one game.
They lost a redshirt freshman to a knee injury just as he was settling in as a starter. Heck, Coach Wulff was forced to burn the redshirt of a star prospect and hold campus-wide tryouts to find someone to run the scout team.
Before checking in on the health of Coach Wulff’s quarterback situation, let’s scope out some of the young men who will be on the receiving end of the passing game.
Wide receivers for Washington State will play in huge part in whether or not the Cougs put points up on the scoreboard this fall. Sure, that’s pointing out the obvious. Just because a point is painfully clear doesn’t minimize importance or relevance.
Rather than rundown all 15 student/athletes on the spring depth chart at wide out, a look at the returning lettermen is a good place to begin weighing Coach Wulff’s strength at the position.
Returning varsity lettermen at wide receiver:
Michael Willis, 3 varsity letters, senior
Willis played in all 13 games last season after coming off a redshirt year. He played and earned varsity letters in the defensive secondary his first two years as a Coug. Michael used his redshirt season on the scout team to sharpen his skills as a Division I wide receiver.
Being honored as the Scout Team Player of the Year highlighted his progress. Last year didn’t prove to be a “break out” season for Willis with only four catches for 28 yards and a touchdown. Willis came out of high school with the label of being a “fierce player, feared hitter” (Todd Mills of Tacoma News Tribune).
Jeshua Anderson, 2 varsity letters, junior
Anderson is a world-class track star running the 400m hurdles for WSU Track this spring. Jeshua set a WSU record for the event at 48.69 in 2007 in route to becoming the NCAA Champion that year.
Though he won’t have to chance to get valuable reps during football spring practice, this talented student/athlete will waste no time catching up when fall camp begins in a few months. Anderson isn’t a track star that plays football. Make no mistake—he’s a football player.
Jeshua would have played in all 13 games last year, but was coming off a hernia operation that kept him out of the opener against Oklahoma State. Last season Anderson was the second leading receiver for the Cougs, behind Brandon Gibson who will be playing on Sundays this fall.
He hauled in 33 catches for 305 yards and two touchdowns. That might not sound impressive stat-wise, but remember the quarterback situation last year. Anderson can only catch a pass if there is someone who is healthy enough to fire one in his direction.
His freshman year stats reveal his All Pac-10 potential. That season his yardage total was 372 with two touchdowns. It only took 12 catches to produce those results.
Daniel Blackledge, 2 varsity letters, junior
Blackledge spent most of his freshman season playing on special teams. Last season he played in nine games, hauling in nine catches for 70 yards. Two of the games he missed were due to a shoulder injury, but that’s behind him.
Blackledge possesses a nice combination of speed and hops. Daniel is a true student/athlete as evidenced by being named honorable mention to the Pac-10 All Academic team in 2008.
Kevin Norrell, 1 varsity letter, sophomore
Norrell came to Pullman from the storied high school program in California, Long Beach Poly. He started six games for the Cougs last year as a true freshman, with a total of 11 catches for 124 yards on the season.
Showing his crimson and gray colors, Norrell’s best game last year came in the Apple Cup where he snagged three catches for 31 yards. Kevin played on special teams back deep receiving kickoffs as well, returning 16 for 296 yards.
Jarred Karstetter, 1 varsity letter, sophomore
Karstetter is another student/athlete who saw action in all 13 games last year as a true freshman. Three of those were starts for the young man from Spokane. He’s another player who showed his true colors, crimson and gray, in the biggest game of the season.
Jarred turned a pass from Kevin Lopina into a 48-yard gainer in the waning moments of the Apple Cup, setting up the game tying field goal. He’s working hard to do more of just that in 2009, with one twist. Karstetter will be a part of an aerial attack that sets up PAT’s instead of field goal attempts.
Easton Johnson, 1 varsity letter, junior
After transferring to WSU from Feather River College, Johnson played in 11 games last season in the defensive backfield. Johnson is a tremendous athlete, starring as an all-league running back and punter in high school, a fine receiver and kick returner as a JC player.
This spring he’ll get his chance to become part of the rotation necessary to keep opposing defenses on their heels with the no-huddle attack.
Anthony Houston, 1 varsity letter, junior
Houston didn’t see game action last year. After a redshirt freshman year at WSU in 2006, he got into seven games in 2007 to earn a varsity letter. He was primarily on special teams. This young man has been working hard to be a contributor to the Cougar passing attack in 2009 and has the athletic talent to do just that.
Coach Wulff has eight more players on the depth chart working to earn significant playing time this coming fall.
We’ll take a brief look at the rest of the wide receivers in the next article.
Originally published on Examiner.com
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