Cougs' Hercules living up to name, says Mele

SPOKANE - It only made sense that the new coach on Mike Leach’s Washington State staff would come to the Spokane Cougar Club to talk about some of the new guys on the Cougars’ roster. Among the players who jumped out on film were a pair of quarterbacks, some wide receivers and a Cougar defensive lineman who is living up to his name.

Eric Mele was promoted from offensive quality control coach to the full-time coaching staff as special teams coordinator two weeks ago after Eric Russell was dismissed. The New Jersey native brought film from last week’s Thursday Night Lights session - the weekly scrimmage that gives redshirting freshmen and backups center stage in a 35-45 play scrimmage.

The package of plays Mele showed the gathering of alumni included several demonstrating the Cougars depth at quarterback for next year. Both Luke Falk and Peyton Bender demonstrated a command of the offense and an ability to deliver the ball.

Falk, a redshirt freshman, Logan, Utah, (6-4, 208) was shown delivering a deep ball to true freshman Barry Ware (Corona, Calif., 6-2, 213) and a touchdown toss to Brett Bartolone, who is redshirting after an impressive freshman season for the Cougars has been marked by injury.

“Connor (Halliday) has a great arm and he’s going to be an NFL prospect,” Mele said. “Luke is a little bit different (from Halliday), but he does a lot of great things. For his size he moves around really well. Not just running the ball, but he moves around in the pocket really well. He gets the ball to the right people. He knows this offense.”

Bender, a true freshman from Ft. Lauderdale (6-0, 183) had just as many highlight plays in Mele’s reel, throwing to many of the same receives including Ware.

“There’s going to be some real competition between these two quarterbacks in the spring,” said Mele, who helped Leach with quarterbacks before his promotion.

Defensively, several players stood out on film, but one name already has caught on with the alums: Hercules Mata'afa (pictured above), a 6-2, 225-pound defensive end from Lahaina, Hawaii.

The true freshman (and standout wrestler and mixed martial artist), was shown on several occasions shedding blocks and making plays – including one stop on a running back that was equal parts tackle and body slam.

“If he had to, Hercules could play Pac-12 football right now,” Mele said. “He’s that good. You’re going to be excited to see what he can do next year. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of Jamal Morrow on defense. You looked at Morrow on these films last year and you saw him making the kinds of plays on offense that Hercules is making on defense. And look where (Morrow) is now: he’s starting at running back.”

Of the receivers showcased, two familiar faces were featured prominently: Bartolone and Gabe Marks. Both receivers will play big roles with the offense next year after taking a redshirt season, Mele said.

Mele drew favorable comparisons between Ware and Vince Mayle.

“They’re both big physical receivers who can catch the ball,” he said.

Safety David Bucannon, the brother former of Cougar Deone Bucannon, also had several impressive plays in the secondary on film from the TNF session. A redshirt sophomore, he was named the 2012 Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year.

Bucannon could see playing time on special teams before the end of the season, Mele said.

Mele explained his passion for special teams.

“I would not have played college football if it weren’t for special teams,” he said.

Mele said he is working to help streamline special teams play the rest of this season, and he predicted the Cougars special teams will score soon.

“We had a big return that came a block away from going all the way,” he said. “I think we’ll get it before this is all over.”

Mele said the key to playing well on special teams is passion.

“You have to play with passion - you have to go out there and play with emotion,” he said. “I like to show the guys clips of a guy named Steve Tasker, who played special teams for the Buffalo Bills and went to the Pro Bowl a bunch of times. That’s the way I want our guys to play special teams, because that’s a big part of the team.

“If you play on four special teams, you’re getting almost as many plays as a starter on offense or defense. You have to take pride in it.”

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