Doba takes the mic, Pitoitua takes the oath

PULLMAN -- Fans eager to see defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua back on the field following a leg injury that wiped out most of his 2005 season and all of last spring's workouts will have to be patient just one more day. The 6-8, 300-pound junior from Spanaway, by way of Samoa, will miss today's practices because he'll be in Seattle taking the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

"I think we can excuse him for that," Cougar head coach Bill Doba quipped Sunday during his inaugural press conference of the 2006 campaign.

Pitoitua, who was born in Samoa in 1985, is widely considered a super talent but has battled injuries throughout his career. The Clover High product now sports a couple of screws in his lower leg. He looks to have had a great spring and summer in the weight room and has been running since early summer.

With his return, he gives the Cougars unprecedented first-tier talent at tackle. Junior Aaron Johnson is back for his third season as a starter, along with sophomore Fevaeai Ahmu, who started every game last year in place of Pitoitua. The Cougars also are crossing their fingers that a fourth tackle, coveted JC transfer Bryan Tarkington, will be able to join the team once academic hurdles are cleared.

Another player the Cougars are waiting on for academic reason is tight end Jason Price, a JC tranfer who has been tacking classes at WSU since January.

ALTHOUGH TIGHT-LIPPED about the reasons for – or length of – the suspensions of senior defensive tackle Odell Howard and junior defensive end Paul Stevens, Doba on Sunday did discuss what the team focused on over the summer, highlighted some key position battles, and discussed what will be the difference maker if the Cougs are going to upset Auburn on Sept. 2.

In a buoyant mood, Doba welcomed the media with a joke about his cholesterol and the new partnership between WSU and the Washington State Beef Commission. After the laughs, however, it was all football for the fourth-year head man.

"We had a great summer -- our kids have worked hard, they've been here, we think they're in great shape, and we'll find out in a little while."

As far as position battles go, Doba said he is most intrigued by the players fighting for playing time at cornerback and center.

"The corner position is open for sure" Doba said, "I think (Tyron) Brackenridge nailed that one corner position down, and we got several guys competing for the other one." Those contenders include Spokane senior Don Turner, who is listed No.1 on the depth chart, sophomores Ryan Kensok and Courtney Williams, and a few new faces in junior transfers Markus Dawes (College of the Sequoias) and Brian Williams (Long Beach community college), and freshman Kerry Maddox. Another name could be added to the mix if transcript issues with JC transfer B.T. Walker are cleared up.

At center, as senior Josh Duin, sophomore Dan Rowlands, and second-year freshman Kenny Alfred are comepting for the starting nod. Duin came out of spring No. 1, but Rowlands (shoulder) and Alfred (broken hand) were limited at that time.

In addition, Doba will work this fall at developing depth at linebacker and in the defensive line.

LOOKING TOWARD THE season opener at No. 6-ranked Auburn, Doba said that conditioning will be the difference maker for the Cougs.

The team's ability to work longer and harder than Auburn can in the heat and humidity of the South could be the deciding factor in whether the Crimson and Gray fly home with a W.

Because the Palouse heat is dry, Doba said he can put his charges through extra work that wouldn't be possible if practicing in the humidity of the deep south. "Our climate is so much drier." Doba said. "I remember a few days back, it was 93 degrees and 17 percent humidity, and they haven't seen 17 percent humidity ever down in Auburn, I don't think, and so, that's to our advantage."

He noted that when WSU opened the 1990 season with a 21-3 win at Texas Christian, the Cougs' outstanding cardiovascular condition was a difference maker.

To that end, Doba said that in keeping with the theme of the Cougars' season – finishing – wind sprints are not considered done unless the players run through the finish line, as opposed to to the line. "We're (even) going to check their plates at training table to be sure they're clean," said Doba.

WSU HAS ENTERED INTO new partnerships with the Washington Beef Commission and AB Foods. The alliances will yield upwards of $700,000 for Cougar Athletics. The Washington Beef Commission, whose executive director, Patti Brumbach, is a WSU alum, will focus primarily on the Cougars annual game at Seahawks Stadium. The game will be heretofore called the Cougar Gridron Classic sponsored by the Washington Beef Commission. The AB Foods partnership will take on more of a year-round flavor, with marketing and signage at Cougar events as well as concessions as the company becomes the official beef supplier of the Cougs.

Brumbach said the state's beef producers will be out in force at Seahawks Stadium on Sept. 16 when the Cougars battle Baylor. She also got off a nice one-liner, saying, "Beef, and Baylor, will be what's for dinner." Doba had the best line, however, saying, "I eat beef and my cholesterol is low. My blood pressure is high but that's because of the media."

The theme this season revolves around an emphasis on "finishing", and in everything the Cougs do. "In sprints you run through the line, not to the line. We're (even) going to check their plates at training table to be sure they're clean," said Doba.

This Thursday, August 10, is the date of the first-ever Night at The Village Pub in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood (3221 W. McGraw Street). Things will start at 6:30 pm. All Cougar fans are invited. We'll have a couple of special celebrity quarterback guests, a door prize or two, a hot-off-the-presses report from our reporters covering workouts in Pullman, and the flying of the legendary ESPN Game Day flag Ol' Crimson. We're also planning to show video highlights of season's past. The first 10 pitchers are on CF.C's tab, so come one, come all and let's talk up the Cougs.

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