Washington State Cougar football will be competitive once again in 2009. Not talking about next year or a couple of years down the road.
Starting at 3 p.m. on Sept. 5, anyone taking the opportunity to watch will see a much better WSU football team take the field at Martin Stadium.
Once again, you will see players proudly wearing crimson and gray. There's a big difference between making the roster of a Division I school and playing Cougar football.
There are literally thousands of Division I football players. Now that classes have begun for students attending Washington State University, there are only 105 student-athletes who have the chance to be a Coug.
OK, you're patiently waiting for me to get to the point. Thanks for hanging in there. In fact, there is a Reader's Digest version summarizing each reason if you are really in a rush.
There are so many reasons Cougar football will be improved this year, it would be an overwhelming list to cite.
Let's make the point with a manageable list of five.
Reason One: Players are buying into Coach Wulff's program
Coach Paul Wulff and his staff made the most of a full season coaching players who remain on the current roster from a year ago.
It's important to distinguish and drive home the point through repetition. The players on the current roster have been coached by Wulff and his staff for a complete season. A few underclassmen who finished last year on the Cougar football roster are no longer on the current roster.
Look elsewhere for the sordid details surrounding their departure from the team and WSU. The detail emphasized here is simply this: Those who left the WSU football program were not Cougs. They were Division I football talent lacking the heart and soul of a Coug.
Coach Wulff is selling a football program the university and community can be proud of. For those not buying what Coach Wulff is selling...no problem. Washington State University isn't for everyone.
Reason Two: Players are bigger (yet leaner), stronger, and have increased stamina
Returning players participated in a tremendous strength and conditioning program during the off season. They did so because there was a clear understanding that to play Cougar football in the Pac-10, physical maturity is mandatory.
The typical WSU player's body won't mature without a rigorous weight training program augmented by proper nutrition. Basic programs aren't good enough. Coach Wulff has implemented a program that goes well beyond basic. If you have doubt, simply ask any Coug on the roster and they will tell you just how different Coach Wulff's program is.
Reason Three: There is more talent on the 2009 roster than last year
There has been serious competition for nearly every position on this Cougar football team during fall camp. At the risk of sounding flip, last year fall camp saw players rising up the depth chart through attrition rather than competition.
A prime example of the point here would be at the quarterback position. Competition for starting quarterback is so intense, a sophomore player transferred to another school. Incoming freshmen aren't moving up the depth charts through a series of injuries, they have come to Pullman with a combination of attitude and talent.
These few exceptional student-athletes have come to WSU with a burning desire to wear crimson and earn the right to be called a Coug.
Reason Four: Cougar Pride is back in the WSU football program
Cougar Pride. It's coming back into the culture of the WSU football team. Just this week, Coach Wulff's assistant head man, Coach Chris Ball, spoke of the significant change in attitude among players.
The fact overlooked by most folks last season was the competitive nature of the players and coaching staff. They all had a burning desire to win. They simply weren't prepared to play as a team committed to play competitive Pac-10 football.
Going into last season, there was optimism the Cougs would improve on a 5-7 record from the previous year. Going 2-11 is the opposite direction.
None of the returning players want to go through that again.
None of the coaches want to go through a season like that again.
Coach Wulff is the first to point out that his program still has a way to go before it's where he believes it should be. One look in the eyes of Coach Wulff and you will see a combination of confidence and passion. It's not wishful thinking that Coach Wulff will get the job done. He's done it before at Eastern Washington. He's working to get it done at his alma mater, WSU. Did I mention Coach Wulff is a Coug?
Reason Five: Coach Wulff is teaching his players what it takes to be winners and simply has no truck with anyone willing to settle for less
Coach Wulff is teaching his players how to win on the football field and be winners in the classroom. Sure, we all know that Pullman is a great place to go to college. Young people register to attend college at Washington State are attracted by all the university has to offer.
Once a student gets to Pullman, it's up to them to take full advantage of what the university has to offer. Nothing will be given to students on a silver platter. Nothing is being given to Cougar football players on a silver platter, either.
Coach Wulff knows that successful college football players are special. Not because of what they do on Saturday afternoons in the fall, but special because they can attend a world-class university and play Pac-10 football.
To accomplish such a challenge takes organization, opportunity, a regimen and a passion. To be a winner requires commitment to those components stronger and more seriously than the other guy.
The 2009 season will be an exciting one for Cougar football fans.
Originally published on Examiner.com.