Cornerback Jason David was the "pleasant surprise" of last year's spring camp, leaving a Spokane crowd of Crimson & Gray watchers wondering just who the heck that diminutive DB was flying around the Joe Albi Stadium field. Eight months later he was starring in the Sun Bowl (and earning a much-coveted spot on the Cougfan.com All-Time Bowl roster).
A similar tale was told in 1999. After coming out of Nowhere (actually his hometown of Anchorage is just south of Nowhere) and shining in the spring season, walk-on defensive tackle Tomasi "King" Kongaika went on to start six games as a redshirt freshman in the 1999 season. He followed that up spectacularly in 2000, earning honorable mention all-conference honors.
Ten days into the 2002 spring campaign, the Cougar cup of "pleasant surprise" candidates darn near runneth over. Better news still: History tells us that with five days of ball remaining, the true "pleasant surprise" may still be lurking somewhere on the practice field.
Here's a quick look at some Crimson Soldiers turning heads --- and surprising some folks ---- these days:
John Tippins: While it may be hard to label JT a complete surprise, what with his heroics last season against Stanford and Montana State, there's no denying he's taken his game up a notch or two. The senior has responded to the challenge of a crowded backfield by coming into camp lean and mean, and putting his heart and mind into each practice. He's been punishing would-be tacklers all spring, making a strong case that the bevy of JC talent on his heels may have to sit for awhile.
Alex Teems: the redshirt freshman corner is dropping some jaws --- and ball carriers --- with his hard hitting and seems to be making great advances learning the science of pass coverage.
Bryan Boyer: The Lapwai, Idaho, native may be just a redshirt freshman, but the way he's been shedding blockers and getting to those yellow-vested passers this spring, it's sometimes easy to confuse him with touted defensive end mates, Isaac Brown, Fred Shavies and D.D. Acholonu.
Kyle Basler: Sure, we'd heard good things about some walk-on punter from Elma last year, but no one really knew what a boomer we had. Coach Mike Price says Basler, who he recently rewarded with a scholarship, may wind up being the best punter in Cougar history. His consistency woes, downright troubling back in the fall, appear to be a thing of the past. He's also displaying some great hands, nabbing up just about every wayward snap.
Marty Martin: It's easy to get blinded by the bright potential of receivers Mike Bush, Jerome Riley, Collin Henderson, and Florida State transfer Devard Darling. But it was hard to overlook Martin's progress prior to dinging his calf in the first spring scrimmage --- a scrimmage in which, by the way, the redshirt frosh from Puyallup caught six passes for 82 yards, including a TD strike from Josh Swogger that covered 60 yards.
And what of JC transfer running back Jermaine Green? Certainly he's had an outstanding camp thus far, giving us glimpses into his potential and making us daydream of future Saturday highlight-reel runs. But the fanfare and track record Green --- and most JC transfers --- brings to the field disqualifies him for "pleasant surprise" candidacy.
So look down deep on those depth charts, Cougfans. You just may find a pleasant surprise waiting to happen.
There's good and news and bad to report on the status of construction of a new indoor practice facility. The good news is that the foundation is laid and the construction timeline is a month ahead of schedule. The bad is that we Cougar faithful still have some work to do to pay for the self-supporting roof and other facets of the facility. Specifically, we all need to start writing checks because Jim Sterk needs $500,000 this year to keep this phased project on track.