Cougar Football is also coming together, slowly gathering momentum toward the first game against Idaho and steeling itself for the brutal, two-week non-conference road trip that lies beyond. The lineup is starting to solidify, and everyone is starting to get comfortable in his role.
Still, it's a time for new beginnings (and redundancy, apparently), both for freshmen moving into dorms, fraternities, and sororities and for once-reserve players who have been waiting their turn to shoulder the load for the Crimson and Gray. Since it may be in bad taste to rate the incoming student freshman class (I'm rapidly approaching dirty-old-man status in that regard), I'll stick to the football players. The newest group of Cougars, though somewhat small in number, is not without talent. Some of these guys will be making an impact almost immediately, while others will grow into their position and become mainstays a couple of years down the road.
Last night's scrimmage went well, though the freshman class is getting less time on the field as the season draws near, which means that I have to pay close attention, something I haven't done since my second year of college. The highlight for the freshman class had to be when former Sheldon (Eugene, Oregon) High School teammates Alex Brink and Chris Baltzer connected for a 70-plus yard touchdown. Baltzer looked good, taking the short pass and outrunning everyone to the east end zone. Unfortunately for Brink, Baltzer is a walk-on linebacker.
But back to the subject at hand. Even if it is a small recruiting class, I'm way too unmotivated to give a single write-up on the full class when I could get at least two—and maybe three--columns out of it. So I'll start with the offensive guys. To begin with, I have to do a little more gushing about young mister Brink. Whoever has been coaching this kid deserves a major-league pat on the back. Brink is far more fundamentally sound than one would normally expect from a player his age. He uses his body very well, steps into all his throws, and always lets go with a beautiful, high-RPM spiral that you have to see to appreciate. I really hope that the truth about Chris Hurd's knee isn't as bad as the rumors, because Brink would benefit immensely from a redshirt year. If anyone out there just can't help themselves and absolutely has to commit an NCAA violation, please slip Brink a piece of pie or a doughnut or something. He really could use the extra pounds. No fruit baskets, though. As any husky fan will tell you, that's what brought down Don James, and we certainly don't want that happening here.
Russell Foster and Bobby Byrd are the two scholarship freshmen offensive linemen, and they look like you would expect most frosh OL to look: bottom-heavy and somewhat awkward. This is not a bad thing. Guys their size grow out of those traits. One thing they are not is overweight. They have the frames to comfortably carry their 300-plus pounds, and with Strength Coach Rob Oviatt's help, will redistribute the baby fat (for lack of a better term) they're carrying, and start looking a lot more like their more-seasoned counterparts on the line. Byrd and Foster have been playing next to each other on the left side lately, Byrd at tackle, and Foster at guard. As I've said before, I like the look of the future offensive line. Whoever's in the backfield in 2007 will have some monsters in front of him.
Kevin McCall is the lone running back in this class, and he's shown some good traits in practice, especially last night. He certainly has a good pedigree, as members of his family have played football at five Pac-10 schools. McCall didn't show any of the tentativeness he displayed in Saturday's scrimmage, running into the middle of the line repeatedly and coming up with decent yards. He's also shown some skills as a receiver. He seems to have soft hands and no trouble picking balls out of the air in linebacker territory.
It's tough to get a read on Jason Hill, since he's practiced so little, but the coaches seem to think enough of him to give him some time with the first-team offense, which is enough for me. When I've seen a little more, I'll get back to you on him.
Well, that does it for the offensive freshmen. The new defenders will come soon after, and then the junior college guys. As for the scrimmage, there was a great crowd and a great feeling on Wednesday night. People seem to be excited about not just Cougar Football, but Cougar Athletics. August in Pullman is looking like the beginning of something special.