PULLMAN, WA—The 2009 Washington State football season was packed with unexpected twists and turns. Coach Paul Wulff's concluding news conference offered a "big picture" view of the past year of Cougar football.
In this final segment, we'll look through the eyes of Coach Wulff at what is yet to come for the Cougs.
The WSU football roster is becoming restocked with a group of talented young student athletes. Many true freshmen and redshirt freshmen were called upon to contribute ahead of schedule because of injuries. Oh doctor, it seemed there were more Cougs watching from the sidelines, sidelined by a variety of maladies, than the number suited up and ready to play.
For example, the Cougs were forced to go with a three-man front on defense this past year because there just weren't enough healthy guys available. The entire team was reeling at the end of spring practice with the that news their up-and-coming teammate, defensive end Cory Mackay, was seriously injured in an auto accident which left him paralyzed from the waist down.
Just as the season was getting underway, Kevin Kooyman was the next to go out with a season-ending knee injury. The defensive line wasn't looking deep to begin with. Subtract two of the best players and the situation was iffy at best.
The future for the Cougar defensive line offers solid reason for optimism:
"We’re going to have two mid-year defensive linemen coming in. Brandon Rankin, a defensive end and Quayshawne Buckley, a defensive tackle, are two very big and very athletic defensive linemen. Everything looks to be on pace (for them). I think they can give us an immediate impact in the sense that with the guys we have returning in (Toby) Turpin, (Kevin) Kooyman, (Travis) Long, (Dan) Spitz, (Anthony) Laurenzi, (Bernard) Wolfgramm, and (Josh) Luapo, those guys will add to that group. I think we’ve got a formidable group there forming." —WSU Coach Paul Wulff
Coach Wulff described Rankin, a JC All-American defensive end, as a 6'4", 270 player who is quick, physically talented, strong, and already well developed. "In 11 games he had 27 sacks so he’s got a knack to find a quarterback," Wulff said. In terms of ranking Rankin, Scout.com has him as a four-star prospect.
Buckley held offers from Oregon State, Colorado State, and Idaho as a standout two-way player. He has the potential to compete for serious playing time on the defensive line at tackle in the fall. Buckley is a talented athlete who was a standout basketball player in high school down in Ontario, CA. Like Rankin, Buckley is scheduled to register for classes in Pullman next month.
The Washington State defensive secondary was depleted last season as well. Several young men slated for the depth chart as D-Backs left the team last spring. There was a rash of injuries which wiped out so many players, wide receiver Easton Johnson moved back to defense for the final two games on the schedule. An overview of what is expected next season paints quite a different picture:
"For the first time I think we’re going to have depth at every position. I look at Daniel Simmons, who I think will be one of the bright young corners in the Pac-10, will be back. He’s got a chance to be a very big player. Terrance Hayward will be returning. And then Nolan Washington will be in there in the mix. Brandon Jones at the corner position. Anthony Carpenter is another one who could play there and/or at safety along with LeAndre Daniels, Jamal Atofau, Chima Nwachukwu, Jay Matthews, Casey Locker, and even Easton Johnson can figure in there.
"Tyree Toomer is another one we sat out this year because of the torn (pectoral muscle) and we redshirted him. So, I think we’re going to have some depth and numbers. There’s a lot of guys there. What I notice is there’s some guys who can run 4.5's and 4.4’s and 4.6’s. There’s a pack of them and that’s something we clearly lack. It’s going to be a lot of good competition back there." —Coach Paul Wulff
No question another area in need of players is the offensive line. Though the Cougs only lost senior Kenny Alfred to graduation, junior Joe Eppele will bypass his senior year of eligibility to enter the Canadian Football League draft where he's expected to be a high selection. Eppele only needs six credits to graduate this spring so he'll graduate and head back home to Canada with diploma in hand.
Coach Wulff would like to shore up the offensive line with one or two junior college players:
"We’re looking for (offensive) tackles, guys who can step in and play out there is space and give us enough frame and athleticism to match up athletically with the defensive ends in this league." —Coach Paul Wulff
Earlier Thursday, Barry Bolton of Cougfan.com reported that Coach Wulff found a young man to fill the bill along the OL. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to confirm details with WSU as this story was published. I have never known Bolton to get something like this wrong, so it's pretty safe to say more help for the Cougar offense is on the way.
One unit that wasn't overwhelmed by injuries last season was the receiver corps. Though they were young last season, they will head into next season with some experience under their belts and an offseason of strength conditioning:
"I think that our receiving corps will be improved. I don’t if there’s going to be a player like Brandon Gibson or Jason Hill who have been in the program and Devard Darling and all those guys. I think Jared Karstetter will be a very valuable guy for our team. I think you’ll see great improvement in Johnny Forzani, Jeffrey Solomon, Gino Simone, Daniel Blackedge, and then Kevin Norrell. I think Kevin Norrell is as talented, if not more, than all those guys. He comes back into the fold." —Coach Paul Wulff
One of the keys to continued improvement for Cougar football next season will be dedication to the strength and conditioning program. The intensity players attack their workouts with can be enhanced through team leaders stepping forward. When it comes to identifying team leaders, Coach Wulff easily named several:
"Alex Hoffman-Ellis is definitely somebody in there that provides great leadership. Mike Ledgerwood, Casey Hamlett, Travis Long particularly, on defense. On offense, I think Jeff Tuel, Gino Simone, BJ Guerra, Micah Hannam, Jared Karstetter, there’s those guys that are leaders that will do the right thing. They will pull guys along. Reid Forrest, for a special teams guy, a lot of time kickers and punters don’t get a lot of respect, but Reid is clearly one of the most respected guys in our program." —Coach Paul Wulff
Rather than summarize Coach Wulff's "State of the Team" news conference, read what he had to say without interpretation on my part:
"If you look at our team and then the commitments we have, there’s tremendous speed coming in that has not been here in a while. I wish that 18-year-old speed could be Pac-10 major competitive next fall. A couple may. I don’t question that at all. Again, for the future of Cougar football, you just keep looking down the road and we’re bringing in (the kind of) guys that have brought great success to Washington State in the past. That’s what these guys are going to do. They’re going to bring bowl games to this university. Let’s not make any mistake about it. Talent is what you have to have to win ball games. We’re bringing in the talent that can win ball games." —Coach Paul Wulff
Originally published in Lew Wrights Washington State column on Examiner.com