Go Time!

PULLMAN -- A year ago the cat was already out of the bag. The WSU Cougars were predicted to win the Pac-10 and did not disappoint as they fulfilled that prophecy. But this year the cat seems to be where it typically is this time of the year, when it comes to WSU football: Tucked away in cozy Pullman.

With Pac-10 preseason rankings debuting last week WSU once again was listed in the bottom half at seventh. While there have been many seasons the cat has stayed in the bag, it's not as if the Cougars haven't belied expectations several times before.

"I believe last time we were predicted to finish seventh we went on to win the Rose Bowl in 1997," WSU head coach Bill Doba pointed out. "I guess I'd rather be predicted to finish seventh and finish first than predicted first and finish seventh."

Doba and his army took their first step towards a second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance and third straight bowl appearance as they kicked off official practices Wednesday. With 24 days left before their Seahawks Stadium opener against Idaho, WSU coaches and players were all smiles after the first day of practice.

"The tempo was great today," offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller said. "The kids were excited and the coaching staff did a great job of keeping the tempo up. If the tempo stays at this level by the seventh or eighth day I'll be very happy."

The day got started at 9:30 a.m. for the rookies and new players, after that special teams did a walk-through before the entire team took the field at 10 a.m. with helmets but no pads.


Defensive back Karl Paymah seemed to be the first to get that pace moving, with a clean pick off of starting quarterback Matt Kegel during an offense versus defense drill. The interception got his fellow defensive teammates excited. Paymah spent some time covering receiver Devard Darling, sticking with him so well that when Darling did get open to make a grab, defensive coordinator Robb Akey yelled, "Good job! That's the first time he's burned Paymah all day."

Adam West showed the depth of the tight ends making an acrobatic, diving catch, nearly sliding out of bounds to do so. Strong safety Aaron Joseph made an exceptional pick off quarterback Josh Swogger.

While most of the team looked impressive, the quarterbacks struggled to find a rhythm. Kegel and backups Chris Hurd and Swogger overthrew quite a few passes. Newcomer Alex Brink did just the opposite, under-throwing several. Regardless, quarterbacks coach Timm Rosenbach was not concerned.

"I was happy with what they did," Rosenbach said. "I don't expect them to hit 75 percent on the first day."

Names like Paymah, Erik Coleman and Darling did not disappoint on the first day, but several new names were being mentioned after practice as well.

One such name was Omowale Dada, who goes by "Wally" for short. Dada, a scholarship cornerback was a late junior college pickup. Dada chose WSU over Texas Christian in June, playing this past season at Saddleback College in southern California. Dada should fill in nicely at a position where the Cougars severely need depth.. Last year at Saddleback, Dada recorded 25 tackles, six deflections and two interceptions. What might have caught the eye of WSU coaches the most is the fact that at 5-11 and 194 lbs. Dada can bench press 225 lbs. 17 times and boasts a 37.4-inch vertical. He also runs a 4.34 forty.

"We're excited about him," Akey said. "Basically as soon as he got himself eligible we realized he was available and picked him up."

Also turning some heads were a handful of new receivers. Tramaine Murray, Jason Hill and Chris Jordan all caught the eye of Levenseller and teammates.

Levenseller mentioned that Hill and Murray should compete for significant playing time. Murray is a recent transfer from Ventura CC in California and Hill is a freshman from San Francisco.

Jordan has been a name many have known to watch out for the past year. This season Jordan is listed just behind Darling on the depth chart coming into the fall.

"Chris is coming on strong," Kegel said. "I expect big things from him in the future ... in fact I expect big things from him this year."

Mike Shelford was a name barely mentioned at this time last year, but the redshirt senior earned himself a starting position this spring at center, beating out sophomore Nick Milhauser.

"He is a tremendous competitor," offensive line coach George Yarno said. "He is extremely bright and I thought he had the best spring of anyone. He had a great summer and I think he'll have a great year this year."

Back from a broken leg during the spring is Calvin Armstrong, who looks to be the anchor for a seasoned offensive line. Armstrong is already considered a candidate for several national awards, including All-American. Yarno has been most impressed with Armstrong's leadership.

"He's just a leader by example," Yarno said. "He's very disciplined and always befriends the younger players."

Yarno also noted that Armstrong exchanged some of his upper-body baby fat this summer for some more muscle.

"He put on a lot of upper body mass like we told him to, he was one person I was significantly impressed with in terms of physical condition."

Yarno also noted freshman right tackle Charles Harris came into camp in exceptional condition.

Certainly one of the Cougars biggest strengths this year will be an extremely talented and experienced defensive line. Akey talked about changes he may make with the transition to defensive coordinator, most notably blitzing more.

"Heh, heh, heh," Akey chuckled. "We will blitz more this season, but more so I want to be well-balanced so that even when we aren't blitzing a lot teams feel like we are."

One person who may have felt he was being blitzed was Doba. The new coach told a horde of media personnel around him that he is starting to get used to being the head coach. When asked what were some of the top items on his to-do list, Doba joked, "Get media day out of the way."

Defensive back Erik Coleman had his shoulder repaired in the winter and is back at 100 percent. Wide receiver Robert Franklin suffered a MCL sprain in late July. He has already had an MRI and is expected to be out four weeks.
Defensive end Brian Boyer is out indefinitely with a lower back disc bulge.
Wide receiver Thomas Ostrander could also miss the season with a similar injury. Ostrander had surgery in July and is currently rehabilitating.

Linebacker Ira Davis is nursing a tendon injury to his right ankle. Coach Akey believes Davis will be back in the next month.

Tentatively, the WSU team will hold its first scrimmage Wednesday, Aug. 13, at 7:30 p.m. in Martin Stadium. The second scrimmage is set for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 16, and a third scrimmage is planned for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20. In addition, the team will hold a modified scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 23 as a dress rehearsal for the Idaho opener.

Recent rule changes by the NCAA have altered the look of early football practices. Beginning this year, all players start practice the same day, with single practices mandated for the first five days. In the past, new players, including freshmen and transfers, arrived in advance of the returning veterans. Newcomers previously had three days of orientation and limited practice time before drills officially began with the entire squad.


The NCAA is also backing off double-day practices. While the new rule does allow for twice-a-day practices, they may not occur on consecutive days. When two practices are held the same day, one will be full contact and the other a non-contact session. Two-a-days begin on Monday Aug. 11.
Mike Bush started the recent trend of dual sport athletes in 2001, playing both basketball and football. Collin Henderson followed Bush, by trading in his football cleats come spring for some baseball ones. This year Steve Mortimer, a fan-favorite first baseman for the Cougars' baseball team has picked up a pair of football cleats.

Mortimer, a wiry 6-3 208, proved he can compete on the football field as well, making several athletic grabs. However, after one impressive catch in which Mortimer outran two defenders and dove for the ball Mortimer seemed to get his sports mixed up, but not with baseball.

Mortimer yelled, "I love this game," which is the catch phrase for the NBA. This was after quoting one of the 20th century's greatest philosophers, TuPac Shakur. "Holla if ya hear me!" were the first words Mortimer yelled as he got off the ground. Mortimer is actually a fledgling rapper and has had some of his songs played at baseball games.

Cougfan Top Stories