McGuire: TNF gives Cougar youth 5-6 games

SPOKANE – You hear coaches talk all the time about how “excited” they are about a certain player, position unit or their team. Well, Cougar offensive line coach Clay McGuire is excited about the future of Washington State football. But unlike most coaches he had more than just his words to explain why – he also brought video with him.

Without a Saturday game to dissect because of the bye week, the Cougars’ offensive line coach arrived at the Spokane Cougar Club luncheon ready to show off some of the youth standing out during the Cougs’ weekly scrimmage featuring non-starters and redshirts: Thursday Night Football.

“With the exception of Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund, everyone on our offensive line played in these scrimmages the last couple years,” McGuire said. “As far as standouts, the one that comes to mind immediately is Luke Falk.

“These are 35- to 40-play scrimmages where guys go all out, just like they do in a game. When you add that all up at the end of the year, these guys are playing five-and-a-half or six games.”

With Luke Falk now the starting quarterback, Peyton Bender now takes the snaps during the scrimmages and showed off a strong arm, firing 45-yard strikes for touchdowns and threading passes between defenders to find open receivers between coverages.

“What’s going to happen is Peyton is going to go into the spring and push Luke hard for the starting job,” McGuire said. “It’s going to be a good competition. If he can beat Luke out for the job or not, that’s going to make us a better team.”

Other impressive plays featured Keith Harrington (pictured above), a true freshman with whom the Cougars will face a difficult choice, making the highlight reel both as a running back – breaking off a long run from scrimmage – and as a wide receiver.

Receiver Barry Ware, a name that has been brought up at Cougar Club lunches on numerous occasions by a range of coaches including head man Mike Leach, is a potential replacement for senior Vince Mayle.

“Barry has that kind of big body that could make him that kind of receiver,” McGuire said. “He’s a big, 6-foot-3, 200-pound guy. He’s going to be a good receiver for us and the sooner he gets there, the better.”

Perhaps the most appealing Thursday Night prospect from this chair resides on defense – first-year DE Hercules Mata'afa, a 6-2, 225-pound rookie from Maui’s Lahainaluna High.

“I can’t pronounce his last name, so I just call him Hercules,” McGuire joked. “I don’t know that he could have played this year as a true freshman and made a difference, but I think four years from now we’re going to be talking about him winning some national honors after a great career.

“This guy makes plays all over the field and he does all game long. I think he’s the toughest guy we have on the whole team.”

MEANWHILE, BACK IN the present, McGuire said he was pleased with the progress of redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Cole Madison and Cody O'Connell. Leach said on Monday he expects Jacob Seydel to get the start at right tackle in place of Madison for the third straight week this Saturday.

“I think you’ll see Cole back in there – I hope so, at least,” he said. “You look at the progress he made from his freshman season to his redshirt freshman season and it’s amazing. He keeps that level of improvement going and we’re going to look back on a great career.

“Cody has been dealing with some nagging injuries, but we’re feeling good about where he is, too.”

McGuire made mention that the entire starting Cougar offensive line returns in 2015. (And there is not a single senior offensive lineman listed in the two-deeps, either.)

“Right now, our most valuable player has no doubt been Joe Dahl,” he said. “So far Joe has yet to give up a sack and that’s a pretty impressive record to have. There have been some close calls -- and you expect that when you think about how many times we throw the ball. But it’s very impressive.”

McGuire, 30, is a long-time Leach assistant, first joining the coach during his playing days as the first recruit to commit to Texas Tech after Leach took over the team. After five seasons in Lubbock and a brief stint as a high school coach, he joined Leach’s staff as a graduate assistant.

McGuire is far from the first former Red Raider to go into coaching. WSU quality control coach Graham Harrell also played quarterback for Leach at Texas Tech. Current Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was a three-year starter for Leach. Former Leach assistants also include Greg McMackin (formerly at Hawaii), Sonny Dykes (Cal), Ruffin McNeill (East Carolina), Dana Holgorsen (West Virginia) and Art Briles (Baylor).

McGuire opined on what it is about Leach that inspires so many to go into coaching.

“I think it has a lot to do with consistency,” he said. “As a coach and as a player, he has a way of explaining what it is he expects from you and they getting out of your way and letting you do your job. His approach generates a lot of consistency, year after year.”

That happened at Texas Tech as the team steadily improved year to year. And McGuire said that’s what you can expect at Washington State, too.

“I know we keep talking about this team being young,” he said. “We’re three years into it and we’re still talking about what a young team we are. That’s because every year we keep going out and getting better players. It took us two recruiting classes to get the kind of athletes in here that we wanted to have.”

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