Moos, players size up Spokane scrimmage

PULLMAN – Pac-12 football players are elite college athletes who live to play games, hear the roar of the crowd and, just maybe, prepare themselves for a pro career. After 13 spring practices, the Cougars are more than ready for Saturday's final spring scrimmage. Saturday's scrimmage, officially labeled the Crimson and Gray Game, figures to be one of the more interesting ones in WSU history.

For starters, the Cougars have promoted the game like never before. Athletic director Bill Moos has openly expressed hope the Cougars draw a school-record spring crowd of at least 10,000 to Spokane's Albi Stadium.

"I think that's realistic," Moos said. "We had over four (thousand) last year."

Saturday's event represents the first time most WSU fans will observe new coach Mike Leach's high-octane, pass-happy offense as well as new defensive coordinator Mike Breske's 3-4 defense.

"I can't wait," offensive tackle John Fullington said.

"I'm looking forward to it," defensive end-tackle Xavier Cooper said.

The learning process is ongoing on both sides of the ball, but the offense and defense have taken turns looking brilliant at times this spring.

"I feel really good about where we're at right now," quarterback Jeff Tuel said. "We've got a lot of energy. "It's a whole different atmosphere with the new coaches. I feel like it's a taken a turn for the best, and I'm really excited for our future."

COOPER, WHO GRAYSHIRTED two years ago and redshirted last season due to academic ineligibility, is emerging as a key figure on defense. The Tacoma native continues to line up at end and tackle with the No. 1 defense in the 3-4 or the 4-3.

"That's the good thing about Cooper, the position flexibility," new defensive line coach Joe Salave'a said.

"The 3-4 thing," Cooper said, "especially from my standpoint, I think is very good because I'm strong enough to handle two men (at tackle), but I'm also quick enough to take (blockers) outside."

Cooper is small for a tackle at 6-foot-4 and 278 pounds, but Salave'a said Cooper is "still growing" and will be bigger by the season opener.

"I'm excited and looking forward to our summer workouts," Salave'a said, "because I think our kids are finally getting exposed to some real hard-nosed (weight)lifting."

Everyone seems in agreement that the Cougars are working harder than ever, thanks in no small part to the new coaching staff.

"They're pushing us beyond what some people know," Fullington said. "Basically, we're just learning as a team to work hard."

"I give the utmost respect to (former coach) Paul Wulff and the guys who recruited me," Cooper said, "because I wouldn't be here without them. Coach Leach and this staff, they want to win, so I've got to respect that."

BILL DOBA, WHO retired in 2007 after five years as WSU's head coach and 14 prior seasons as defensive coordinator and/or linebackers coach, received a warm welcome back from the Cougars this week.

Doba, 71, attended a WSU-sponsored dinner Monday night with boosters and some of his former players, and he was a popular interview subject. Doba told John Blanchette of Spokane's Spokesman-Review newspaper that his WSU coaching career was "the greatest time of my life."

It was Doba's first public appearance in the Inland Northwest since he moved from Pullman to his lake place in Michigan, not far from his boyhood home outside South Bend, Indiana.

"When the (Pullman) realtor asked for the keys to the house," Doba told Blanchette, "I had no idea where they were. I'd never locked it or my truck."

FORMER WSU COACH Rich Rasmussen, the tight end coach and recruiting coordinator under Wulff the past four seasons, has been hired as the director of player personnel at Boise State. Rasmussen's new job is a non-coaching position.

MOOS, A WSU football standout during his playing days, is unusual for a Division I athletic director in that he tries to sit down with as many recruits and their parents as possible when they visit campus.

"They need to hear the commitment from the top," Moos reasons.

Moos grew up cheering the Cougars as a youth in Edwall and Olympia. He likes to think he has the advantage of "a little different angle" than most athletic directors.

"You clean everything off the surface," he said, "and what we're all about is our student-athletes (and) recruiting the right student-athletes."

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