Paul Sorensen centers in on Riley Sorenson

JOE DAHL AND Gunnar Eklund are the old war horses of Washington State’s offensive line, with a collective 57 starts between them heading into the 2015 campaign. Dahl is a guy with NFL potential and Eklund is so consistent you can set your clock by him. But the hoss who I find intriguing as hell on this Cougar team is the center.

And not because he has a last name that is just one letter off of perfection.

Third-year junior Riley Sorenson possesses the smile of a choir boy and comes across as polite and friendly as Russell Wilson.

Rest assured, though, he’s something else altogether on the football field.

The guy is a proverbial junkyard dog after he snaps the ball.

Although he’s hard to miss at 6-foot-4 and 321 pounds, I never really focused on Sorenson last season when he started 10 games for the Cougs after winning a tight battle with Sam Flor for the right to succeed Elliott Bosch at center. But watching the Crimson and Gray Game from the end zone at Albi Stadium a couple of weeks ago, Sorenson jumped out at me.

Not due to his size, but due to his attitude.




It’s hard to describe, especially so because of the highly disciplined, controlled nature of the position, but the guy brings a little bit of nasty to the trenches. No, he’s not biting opponents or punching them in the throat like Conrad Dobler of 1970s NFL fame.

But he is aggressively looking to get his hat on someone every moment of every play. It's clear he wants to attack people. He's like Deone Bucannon trapped in the body of a hoss.

Sorenson's motor never stopped during the Crimson and Gray Game. Whether the meaningful action was near him or not, he was looking to put people on the ground. And it didn’t matter who -- noseguards, linebackers, safeties, corners, he just wanted to punish someone.

Sorenson strikes me as a cross between Nick Mihlhauser (2002-05), Tyler Hunt (1999-2002) and Robbie Tobeck (1991-92), all of whom you may remember as being damn fine centers for the Cougs.

None of those three was beyond a little leg whipping if necessary. Or a “tackle” block once in a while. Or perhaps a grab if they thought they could hide it. That’s salty ball by your center. And that’s what I see in Sorenson.

He is, of course, but one-fifth of a Cougar offensive line that returns every starter from a year ago.


SORENSON HAILS FROM SANTA MARGARITA HIGH IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA -- THE SAME SCHOOL THAT SENT KLAY THOMPSON AND RIVER CRACRAFT TO WSU. AS A PREP SENIOR, SCOUT.COM RATED HIM ONE OF THE TOP 12 OT PROSPECTS IN THE WEST AND ONE OF THE TOP 75 IN THE NATION.

Dahl, at tackle, and Eklund, at guard, hold down the left side while guard Eduardo Middleton and tackle Cole Madison anchor the right. In addition, the Cougars return Jacob Seydel, who saw action in nine games last season and started four of them when Madison was injured.

Those guys all stand no less than 6-foot-5 and weigh between 295 and 318. Size plus bend plus experience usually adds up to good things in an offensive line. And as Mike Leach has stated, it's harder for defenders to run around bigger bodies than smaller ones and these Cougar O-linemen are large across the board.

So I’m expecting not just good results from them in 2015 but great results. Luke Falk really couldn’t ask for a better group to go to battle with in his first full season as a starter.

Here’s another encouraging fact: There’s no shortage of offensive line depth behind those top six guys. The Cougars have seven scholarship athletes backing them up, plus a handful of walk ons. In addition, the incoming recruiting class includes five offensive linemen, of which four are 6-5 or taller and all five weigh between 270 and 310 before they’ve spent a single day in the WSU weight room or nutritional program. Considering how thin the Cougs were in the offensive line a few years ago, this wealth of talent is almost hard to fathom.

Major kudos to Leach and his staff for making it happen.

I’m going to conclude with another important, but somewhat obscure, benefit of having an experienced offensive line and a boat load of guys in the OL unit generally. Leach talked about it this spring. All the successful teams he’s coached, he said, are run by the linemen, both on O and D. By "run," he means they set the tone in the locker room, from music choices on down. You have the unsung big boys leading the way and good things often follow because linemen tend to be lunch-bucket-carrying, blue-collar, no-nonsense types who lead by action.

That’s not to say I’m predicting a huge season for the Cougars in 2015. But I do think a bowl game is reasonable and the offensive line -- with one nasty dude named Sorenson parked in the middle of it -- is a big reason why.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-America honors as a senior. He then spent two seasons in the NFL on the Bengals' and 49ers' practice squads and later played in the USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football and has been the color analyst for Eastern Washington University broadcasts for many years since then. He also was a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League. Paul has been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.


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