Taking heart, taking stock in spring's afterglow

ONE OF THE BEST things to come out of Washington State's just-concluded spring football drills was Jerome Harrison. Literally! Keeping this guy healthy is critical to the 2005 Cougars' bowl aspirations. The fact he came through a month of spring workouts unscathed --- and, importantly, running like the proverbial wind --- was a development of immense proportion.

Harrison's health is vital to the Cougars for three reasons.

First, he's super talented --- as evidenced by the 8.16 yards-per carry he averaged in four spring scrimmages.

Second, he's the only true tailback on the team right now --- though there figures to be two more in prep recruits DeMaundray Woolridge and Dwight Tardy, and perhaps another in sophomore Kevin McCall, come August.

And third, with a starting quarterback (take your pick, Josh Swogger or Alex Brink) who has just a handful of collegiate starts under his belt, having a dangerous running back at the ready does wonders for the ol' confidence.

RB Jerome Harrison averaged 8.16 yards per carry and scored seven TDs during his monster spring season.

Let me tell you, Harrison certainly fits the bill. Last season, after transferring in from Pasadena City College, he came on strong in the second half of the year and wound up with 900 yards and honorable mention all-conference honors. His work this spring only heightened the expectations. In fact, he was so impressive that teammates started calling him "The Ghost" in deference to the fact he's seemingly here and gone in the blink of an eye.

"If we can keep Jerome healthy, I don't plan on taking him out," head coach Bill Doba quipped a week ago. "He's really special."

In four scrimmages this spring he carried the ball 37 times and piled up 302 yards and scored seven touchdowns.

QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND: From cornerback Tyron Brackenridge on his 64-yard interception return for a TD in the final spring scrimmage Saturday: "The quarterback (Cole Morgan) dropped back, I saw him peek over toward me and I just jumped all over it. My eyes got real big and so did my smile. I saw touchdown all the way."

INJURY REPORT: While a number of players got dinged up during the spring season, none appears to have been serious. In finale on Saturday, the biggest scare came from starting defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua, who injured the MCL in his right knee, but is expected to be back to normal in a month and not require surgery. Receiver Marty Martin suffered a slight concussion and neck sprain during the scrimmage, but should be fine. Linebacker Chris Baltzer (elbow) and defensive back Ian Bell (ankle) were taken for X-rays. Star linebacker Will Derting, who sat out the entire spring, had surgery in Spokane on Friday to "revise the hardware" in his wrist. It will be another 6-8 weeks before he will be active. One of the doctors doing the surgery was Ed Tingstad, a Cougar running back from 1986-88.

CARRYING A BIG STICK : One of the names that unexpectedly jumped of the stat page at the end of Saturday's scrimmage was walk-on linebacker Alexis Alexander. He had five tackles on the day – one shy of team leader Bryan Olsen. Alexander, who joined the team last fall after three years of professional baseball in the Kansas City Royals' organization. He's running No. 2 on the depth chart at weakside linebacker behind Steve Dildine. After getting drafted in the 18th round in 2001, he racked up 355 career minor league at bats, hitting .225 with five homers and 22 stolen bases. As a high school senior at Medical Lake outside Spokane he was an all-league and honorable mention Class 2A All-State performer in football. He played in the East-West All-Star game with Cougars Thomas Ostrander and Pat Bennett. As a junior he set the all-time Medical Lake record for longest kickoff return -- 99 yards.

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