WSU's young hosses look to earn seat at the table

<b>ANDY ROOF, DAN Rowlands and Eddie Vickers -- the most touted bunch of offensive linemen in one Cougar recruiting class in many years -- take off the training wheels in less than two weeks. After a season redshirting, the threesome will be counted on to contribute in a big way in 2005. The graduation to that next level starts when spring workouts commence March 22.

While none of the three is expected to crack the starting line-up for the season opener, all could be in line for significant playing time in 2005.

Dan Rowlands (6-4, 284), Eddie Vickers (6-3, 335) and Andy Roof (6-3, 309) each caught the eye of coach Bill Doba as true freshmen on the scout team this past year. Any one of the steakeaters could emerge as a breakout star this spring with perhaps none shining as brightly last season as did Rowlands.

"Rowlands has played REALLY well on the scout team," said Doba, shortly after the Cougars triumph in last November's Apple Cup.

Graduate assistant coach Don Bartel, who works intensively with the scout team, noted Rowlands' toughness and unwillingness during practice to surrender any quarter. "He goes after each drill with top-notch intensity," said Bartel.

Vickers' athleticism for a big man is off the charts. He worked his tail off his first year in Pullman, arriving this past summer at 358-pounds but within two months, was down to 335. Along the way, he improved upon his already considerable strength.

"Vickers is a very powerful young man," said Doba. "He's got a low center of gravity and he can get under your pads and push you back."

Roof is a specimen. Along with a 370-pound power clean, he already had a 650-lb. squat coming out of East Valley High in Spokane. At the college and pro levels, 650-pounds in the squat is a very impressive lift. At the high school level, its flat-out ridiculous.

He also has a pair of feet to die for in an offensive lineman.

"The Roof kid, I think he's got a chance (this year)," said Doba. "He's got a good work ethic."

HEADED INTO SPRING BALL, the line shapes up like this: Bobby Byrd moves to left tackle, Nick Mihlhauser mans the center spot and Norvell Holmes holds down the right guard position. Right tackle and left guard look to be filled by Riley Fitt-Chappell and Charles Harris, respectively. Spencer Hollison also has a shot to figure prominently into the mix. Harris has experience (2 starts, 13 games) while Hollison displayed marked improvement last season, regularly impressing line coach George Yarno.

Harris and Hollison both have good speed and athleticism, one of the top priorities this offseason for each is hitting the weight room to increase their strength. Fitt-Chappell was penciled in as an o-line starter headed into the '04 fall camp before the emergence of Holmes. The senior could be ready in his final go-round to seize the starting opportunity.

But the three redshirt freshman-to-be, now with a year under their belt, appear ready this spring to make their presence felt up on the depth chart. The trio made the 1's earn everything they got on the practice field throughout the 2004 campaign. Don't be surprised to see the next great Cougar lineman emerge between now and April 16, day of the annual Crimson and Gray game.

"We think we've got three pretty good kids there that can step in and help us next year," said Doba.

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