Spring primer with Akey and Levy

AUBURN – Well, somebody has to do it. At Washington State, the somebody of all somebodies at the moment is the person who has to follow Jerome Harrison at tailback on the Cougar football team. All Harrison did in 2005 was shatter the school record for rushing yards in a season by twisting and turning and darting and weaving for 1,900 yards and 16 touchdowns.

When it was over, he was named an All-American. And, because his eligibility was exhausted, he also was named an ex-Cougar.

That means, when WSU begins spring practice March 21, the process of finding a replacement for Harrison will begin.

First up, said offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller, is DeMaundray Woolridge, a 5-foot-8.5, 223-pound sophomore-to-be whose claim to potential fame is the fact he rushed for 1,588 fewer yards than Harrison last season. But, with a 6-yard average per carry, no one did better.

"He did a good job,'' said Levenseller during a Night With Cougar Football gathering at Emerald Downs Feb. 17.

Should Woolridge falter, there will be others waiting for a chance, including Kevin McCall, a redshirt junior from Carson, Calif., who in his only game appearance last season carried the ball three times for three yards.

"We'll take a shot with those guys and then we're bringing in some guys who are good players,'' Levenseller said.

They are pending junior-college transfers Derrell Hutsona of Spring Valley, Calif., and J.T. Diederichs of Seattle (Ballard) and freshman-to-be Marcus Richmond of Mesa, Ariz.. Hutsona is at Grossmont College in southern California. Diederichs is at Whatcom Community College, to where he transferred from Dixie State.

"The competition will be stiff so we feel like we've met the need at tailback,'' Levenseller said.

The situation at quarterback is more stable with the 2005 starter, Alex Brink, back for his junior season. What needs to be found are the backups from among redshirt sophomore Gary Rogers, and redshirt freshmen Arkelon Hall and Cole Morgan.

Rogers, 6-feet-6 and 228 pounds from Kamiak High in Mukilteo, appeared in four games last season. Hall, from Fresno, Calif., and Morgan, from Seattle (Ballard), redshirted.

"You've got to let them all compete,'' Levenseller said.

It appears the quarterbacks will have an ample number of targets. Levenseller said the situation at receiver is the deepest its been since he's been coaching that area. A major reason is the decision made by Jason Hill to forego the NFL draft in favor of returning for his senior season and Michael Bumpus, clearing an academic hurdle.

Hill, from San Francisco, last season led the Cougars with 62 catches for 1,007 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bumpus, from Culver City, Calif., was No. 2 with 30 catches for 357 yards.

Others in the receiver mix are returnees Chris Jordan, Brandon Gibson and nonletterman Benny Ward.

Two-year letterman Jesse Taylor and nonletterman Ben Woodard will get long looks at tight end this spring with returning starter Cody Boyd out with an injury.

Elsewhere on the offensive line, starting tackles Bobby Byrd and Charles Harris and a starting guard, Sean O'Connor, are back. Redshirt freshman Kenny Alfred is expected to replace Nick Mihlhauser at center and sophomores Dan Rowlands and Andy Roof are strong candidates for the other guard role vacated by Norvell Holmes.

"I think we've got a chance to be pretty good,'' Levenseller said of the offense.

A BIG ISSUE this spring for the defense will be at cornerback, where both starters are gone. A key returnee might be Tyron Brackenridge, a junior-college transfer who was ineligible last season.

"I have great expectations for him,'' defensive coordinator Robb Akey said. "I think he's got a chance to be a great player.

"Don Turner (two-year letterman senior) is the one corner we have coming back with experience. We need to get a performance out of him. Ian Bell (redshirt sophomore) needs to come along.

"And we went out and signed four new cornerbacks. Those kids are going to have an opportunity to compete come fall.''

The starters at safety, Eric Frampton (strong) and Husain Abdullah (free) are both back. Frampton led the team in tackles last season.

Another key area is at middle linebacker, where Greg Trent is back as the likely fulltime replacement for Will Derting. Trent, a 230-pound sophomore from Keller, Texas, started five games last season when Derting was sidelined due to injury.

"We want to take his game to the next level,'' Akey said.

Starters Scott Davis and Steve Dildine return at the outside linebacker positions.

Along the front, end and chief sackmaster, Mkristo Bruce, and the tackles, Aaron Johnson and Fevaea'i Ahmu, are back. There is a vacancy at one end in place of Adam Braidwood.

Akey said a key factor in improving the defense will be the players creating some confidence in themselves.

"That's my goal, is we get to the point where we're flying around with confidence,'' Akey said. "That's the challenge we've got in front of us this spring."

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