Tempered Woolridge starts quest for No. 1

PULLMAN — Blame youthful exuberance. DeMaundray Woolridge had quite a reputation with WSU beat reporters in 2005. Always good for a provocative quote, the freshman predicted a Heisman Trophy in his future and promised to gain "at least" 900 yards last season, among other gems. Amusing as it was, Woolridge often made it hard for himself to be taken seriously.

Today, he sounds nothing but serious, especially when talk turns to succeeding Jerome Harrison as WSU's featured running back.

Do you think you have an edge in the competition to replace Jerome?

Had Woolridge been asked that question last fall, odds are he would have produced a statement worthy of bulletin-board material for other Cougar backs. Nowadays, however, the confident kid from Keller, Texas, has a new wrinkle in his playbook: temperance.

"I have game experience. I'll just say that," Woolridge recently told CF.C. "That's one of my advantages. I played a lot more than the other guys, but they're all great backs."

Woolridge was indeed the No. 2 tailback last season. But seeing as the No. 1 man, Harrison, ran for a school-record 1,900 yards on 308 carries, the freshman understudy was left with the scraps. He finished with 52 carries, 312 yards and two touchdowns. He had some noteworthy games – piling up 133 hashes at Nevada and 105 against Grambling – but in Pac-10 games Woolridge spent the majority of ‘05 standing on the sidelines.

"Any football player wishes they could play more, but Jerome did a great job with the carries he had," Woolridge said. "I wish I would've gotten more carries, but I still had a chance to prove I could play at this level."

Heading into spring practices that begin tomorrow and run through April 15, Woolridge has to be considered the front-runner to be the starter in WSU's one-back offense. His competition this spring will be Dwight Tardy, who redshirted as a true freshman in ‘05, and junior-to-be Kevin McCall, whose ‘05 campaign was plagued by injuries. In the fall, another five backs – including touted JC transfers Derrell Hutsona and J.T. Diederichs – will join the fray.

"Dwight is doing a great job (in offseason workouts). He's stepping his game up," Woolridge said. "Kevin has just been in a situation where he's had too many injuries to show what he can do."

For his part, Woolridge has added five pounds to his 5-foot-9 frame this offseason, putting him at 220 pounds. He said he's been focusing on his agility, which he hopes to combine with the straight-ahead speed that made him a high school standout in track and field.

BUT AS MUCH AS THE 19-year-old may have matured, Woolridge still is given to bouts of hyperbole.

At Keller High, Woolridge played in a pass-heavy offense bolstered by a quarterback and several receivers who went to Division I colleges. As it was, the most carries Woolridge ever had in one game was eight.

What if you had he seen the ball more?

"I do think I probably would've been ranked in the Top 10 in the nation or something like that," he said. "I would have had a lot more exposure … but people still respected me even if I didn't get the ball as much. They still knew when I got the ball, they had to be aware that I had the speed to take it the distance."

If he becomes the starter at WSU, lack of carries should no longer be a problem. Woolridge -– or whoever wins the job -– will, however, be running behind a re-tooled offensive line in ‘06, one that loses rock-solid center Nick Mihlhauser and seasoned right guard Norvell Holmes. In practices last year, Woolridge gained experience running behind some of the O-linemen challenging for starting spots this year.

"Josh Duin showed a lot of potential and work ethic. And Kenny Alfred, he can play. He's as strong as an ox. That's one strong man," Woolridge said. Duin and Alfred figure to battle for the starting spot at center, with Andy Roof and Dan Rowlands the leading candidates to take Holmes' old spot.

What are your goals for next year?

Yet another question that could have been "DeMaundray-ed" had it been asked a few months ago. Few would have been surprised to hear him reel off mountainous stats.

Not anymore.

"I just want to produce for the team and help out," Woolridge says. "I want to help us get back to a bowl game, help the seniors get to a bowl game. I've heard some of them talking about how they'd forgotten how fun bowl games are."

SPRING PRACTICE NOTES:

* Workouts begin Tuesday afernoon and conclude with the annual spring game on April 15. Cougfan.com plans to bring you wall-to-wall coverage throughout.

* The preliminary spring depth chart can be found by clicking here.

* Besides Josh Swogger and Spencer Hollison, two would-be seniors searching for more playing, another familiar has opted to transfer to a Divison I-AA school: freshman defensive back Shelton Danzy. Among the schools he's considering are Hampton, Jackson State, Alabama A&M, Northern Iowa and Youngstown State. Two other players have left the program: deep reserves Reyshawn Bobo (DE) and Steffan Blume (LB).

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Editor's note: After two years of great work for Cougfan.com as our main man in Pullman, particularly on the basketball front, this is the final article you'll see on our pages from super-talented Austin Burton. He's off to New York, where he'll be joining the staff of Dime, a fast-growing national basketball magazine written with style, edge and insight. All the best to a great young guy.

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