Swogger's confidence at an all-time high

THE PAIN shot through his right foot with every step -- slowly robbing him of his ability to push off, run, throw. Games, practice, getting to class. Few knew how badly it hurt just to walk. With a torn ligament in the opposite knee, Josh Swogger was a proverbial poster boy: He didn't have a good leg to stand on. Spring was a time for healing. This summer, back at full strength, he's found his stride again. His confidence is soaring --- both in himself and a revved up Cougar offense.

It's good to be Josh Swogger these days. Happily married since December. Dubbed by one national pre-season magazine as the strongest arm in the Pac-10. His surgically repaired foot, the one that abruptly ended his 2004 season after six games, strong and pain free. The knee's feeling good, too.

Seniors on defense say the Cougar offensive looks as powerful as the 2002 club that won the Pac-10 title.

"My confidence is higher than it's ever been," says Swogger. "I'm 100 percent right now. This summer, I've done everything -- conditioning, passing skelly and what-not."

The stress fracture in the foot likely occurred in last season's opener at New Mexico. By the time the Stanford game ended in Week 6, the break in Swogger's navicular bone was 3 1/2 millimeters wide, a veritable abyss. Over the course of the season, he'd also sustained a partially separated shoulder, minor concussion and rotator cuff injury.



The guy was a walking infirmary.

"It was just one thing after another," said the 6-5, 254-pound junior from Ohio. "It was kind of tough..but you expect to get banged up as a quarterback."

Talk about an understatement. If there's any decency among the footballs gods, you've got to believe Swogger's fulfilled his career allotment for injuries.

SURGERY IN OCTOBER WAS followed by rehab that also kept him out of most spring drills. "It was difficult seeing the team go through everything without me because I feel I'm one of the leaders," he said.

The offensive line made it all a little easier. Before he was injured, they'd come over to Swogger's for dinner one night a week, another night they might all go out for pizza. After Swogger's surgery, the linemen kept coming.

"It was amazing. The offensive line was always over, seeing how I was doing," Swogger said. "And in the spring when I was on crutches, Nick Mihlhauser, Bobby Byrd, Charles Harris, Robbie Hyslop, all those guys came over and we'd hang out. That's when you really know this is a special place."

At the end of the spring session, players have four weeks off before voluntary summer workouts begin with strength coach Rob Oviatt. Swogger opted to start immediately. Lifting, running, lifting, running.



The foot's flexibility is back and the soreness is a distant memory. "I've taken off. I feel I'm better than I was when we started off last year. I actually go home and my wife puts me to work around the house."

SWOGGER ENTERS FALL CAMP as the starter. Though generally thought to hold a slight edge over sophomore Alex Brink, who threw for 1,305 yards last season, head coach Bill Doba has said the job is Swogger's job to lose.

The tight competition between the two QBs doesn't strain the relationship. Swogger says they get along well and constantly talk on the field about what they're seeing with each play.

Behind Swogger and Brink, the stable is brimming. Second-year freshman Gary Rogers is No. 3 on the depth chart, with Cole Morgan and newcomer Arkelon Hall rounding out the staff. "They're coming along really well," said Swogger.

RECRUITING AN OHIO QUARTERBACK TO THE PALOUSE

Ursuline, Ohio, isn't exactly a WSU recruiting hotbed. But Mike Price and quarterbacks coach son Eric came hard after Swogger.

"They said I reminded them a lot of Ryan Leaf," said Swogger, whose official visit to Pullman in September 2000 was unseasonably wet and chilly. To top it off, the Cougars lost to Stanford. But something clicked for Swogger. He loved the atmosphere, and Jason Gesser and the coaches made strong impressions on him and his dad.

"Gesser really brought me along and took me under his wing. He was always so positive. And we liked how Mike was -- other places, the coaches were distant from the players and Mike wasn't like that."

Swogger had scholarship offers from Michigan State, Louisville, most of the MAC schools and others, with Louisville and WSU his finalists. After signing with the Cougs, Swogger grayshirted and then redshirted.

"I think grayshirting benefited me a lot," he said. "It basically gave me two years to see Jason play, see how he operated...And I learned from Matt, how to be patient and how he used his time as a backup to learn and improve."

BESIDES THE SEEMINGLY endless hours of conditioning this offseason, Swogger has logged many more with receiver Jason Hill poring over game film. Given how they clicked on the field last season -- 9 of Hill's record 12 TD catches were delivered by Swogger -- it's probably no surprise to learn they've spent 10 hours a week together this summer breaking down defenses and seeing where the O can step up.

As for his receiving corps, they appear to be nothing less than fully stocked with the likes of Hill, Chris Jordan, Michael Bumpus, Marty Martin, Trandon Harvey, Greg Prator and uber tight ends Troy Bienemann and Cody Boyd.

The tight ends, he says, will be critical to the Cougars' rebound in 2005.

"A lot of people say those guys complement the offense but I think those guys are many times the center of the offense because of their size and speed," said Swogger. "Troy runs some of the best routes on the team and Cody is just so big and so fast -- if you throw the ball up to Cody, he's going to come down with it."

The stats bear him out. A year ago, when Bienemann and Boyd were healthy, the Cougars moved the ball. When they went down, the offense ground to a halt.

Like any good quarterback, Swogger gushes about his offensive line, but he also beams at the prospect of handing off to a guy who will help open up the passing game. Running back Jerome Harrison came on in spectacular fashion the second half of 2004 and followed it up with a stellar spring.

"I think he's the best we've had here in I don't know how many years, maybe since Steve Broussard," he said. Swogger was only 6 when "Bruiser" last donned the crimson and gray, but he knows what he's talking about. His work in the film room has included some analysis of his position coach, Timm Rosenbach, when he shared the same backfield with Broussard.



"I've watched some tape of him (Rosenbach) when he was a junior," said Swogger. "I've had a lot of conversations with him about his sophomore and junior years. His sophomore year, he led the nation in interceptions with 24, then his junior year he led the nation in completion percentage. A total turnaround. I try to pick his brain all the time."

Swogger says Rosenbach, a first round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 1990, is a great quarterbacks coach. "He cares about Washington State, and he cares about you as a person, and as a player."

SWOGGER DOESN'T GO SO far as to envision an offensive onslaught in 2005 akin to the one Rosenbach orchestrated in 1988, but he and others do see shades of the high-scoring 2002 Cougars in this year's club.

In '02, receivers Jerome Riley, Mike Bush and Devard Darling alone accounted for 160 catches, 24 TDS, and 2,438 yards as Washington State averaged 33.2 points a game. Last season, the Cougs averaged 25 points. Swogger said he's not the only one seeing similarities between that Cougar offense and this year's version.



"It seems like we're right on the brink of being really, really explosive," said Swogger. "I was talking with (Will) Derting the other day and he was saying the offense hasn't been like this in a long time, thinking back to Devard, Bush and Riley. And Troy Bienemann (15 catches in that '02 campaign) is three years better now."

"There were times last year when we felt we were one block away, one play way," he said. "And it seems like everything just came together this spring . . . we were really clicking on all cylinders from the first snap to the last."

"(The media) is saying our schedule is somewhat favorable and the first three games might allow some of our young guys to get accustomed to college football. That will only make us stronger. Because it's a mental war every time you step on the field."

For his part, Swogger says he's ready to lead.

"I feel like it's my time," he said. "That's just how I feel. I'm just trying to do as much as I can to put this team over the top. I think we're going to be a great team."

SWOGGER NOTES:
  • The cannon-arm has its pros and cons, so Swogger has focused this summer on something that every great Cougar quarterback has confronted and mastered: Touch. "It's not necessary to throw the ball as hard as I can. There's a time to do that and a time not to do that."


  • He's only started a handful of games, but Swogger already sits in rarefied Cougar company. His four TD passes against Idaho last season made him one of only eight quarterbacks in WSU history to throw four or more TDs in a single game. The others are Jason Gesser, Ryan Leaf, Mark Rypien, Drew Bledsoe, Timm Rosenbach, Jack Thompson and Mike Pattinson.


  • Since he spends so much staring the Cougar D in the face, Swogger is well qualified to assess the stop corps and says Cougfans are in store for some fun. "Our linebackers are so fast," said Swogger. "Derting, Scott Davis and Steve Dildine, those guys are really fast and they cover really well." He's also has been impressed by safeties Eric Frampton, Michael Willis and Husain Abdullah, as well as the defensive line.


  • Swogger says one thing fans don't see: Coaches like Rosenbach and George Yarno are intense, but they leave it on the field. "You'll hear some fans yelling at coach Yarno because he yells at his offensive linemen. Off the field, the coaches are 110 percent different. Coach Yarno is an intense guy on the field but for example, I went with the offensive linemen over to his house and you will never meet a nicer guy. The coaches have the players over for dinner and during down time and they do care about you -- (fans) don't see that on the field. But the players know."



  • Swogger said Bienemann has "put on about 5-7 pounds" and has added some speed, while Hill's tweaked hamstring is shaping up nicely and Jordan is looking better and better. "We know what they can do," said Swogger of Hill and Jordan. "They don't need to prove anything in the summer. They just need to get their bodies ready for when it matters."


  • Swogger and Mihlhauser have become fast friends. "I started getting really close with Mihlhauser this year," said Swogger. "There's a special bond that goes on between a center and a quarterback, and also the offensive line and a quarterback."

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