Hutsona, once grades rise, another JSmooth?

THE COUNTDOWN TO WSU'S opener at Wisconsin officially kicks off tomorrow with the launch of spring football practices. But the expectations surrounding senior back Derrell Hutsona, who looks to deliver this season on the immense promise he flashed as a prep and JC star, will have to wait. He's sitting out the spring to focus on academics, Bill Doba said Wednesday.

If he can get his grades in order, his situation -- like his running style -- could be reminiscent of another Cougar who parlayed a stellar senior year into an NFL stint.

The parallels between Jonathan Smith and Derrell Hutsona are almost eerie.

Hutsona, like Smith, was a California prep standout who went on to rack up massive yardage and accolades in junior college.

In his first season with the Cougs, in 2002, Smith rushed for 308 yards and caught 15 passes. Hutsona last year ran for 379 yards and caught 7 passes.

Each is 5-10 and about 190 pounds.

"They're very similar types of players," WSU offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller said last month following the annual coaches dinner in Bellevue. "I hope Derrell wants it as bad as Jonathan did -- he learned the system his first year and did OK. But he wanted success so badly he worked tirelessly between his junior and senior seasons and became a great, great football player. Derrell has an opportunity to elevate his game like that."

In 2003, when WSU won 10 games for the third-straight year and upset Texas in the Holiday Bowl, Smith was outstanding. He ran and caught his way to second-team All-Pac-10 honors with more than 1,300 rushing and receiving yards. He also scored 11 touchdowns, and subsequently spent parts of two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A year ago, when starter DeMaundray Woolridge went down with injury that limited him for the entire season, Dwight Tardy became the No. 1 back and Hutsona, a bit of a slasher and dasher like his close high school friend Reggie Bush, was the change-of-pace guy. He averaged a glossy 6.4 yards per carry, and ripped off one for 70 yards.

Unlike last season, when the Cougars entered the year with no experienced backs, they're in solid shape up this time around. Besides Hutsona, Tardy is back for his sophomore campaign, as is Chris Ivory, who electrified a Martin Stadium crowd last September as a true freshman with an 80-yard sprint to paydirt against Idaho.

Marcus Richmond, whom Levenseller calls "a pretty special kid," will get his first crack at playing time after redshirting last season. In addition, Kevin McCall looks to be back for his senior year. And there's a chance Woolridge -- now attending community college to get his grades in order -- could be back in August.

"The running game is huge to what we do," said Levenseller. "It sets up the pass. We need to run the football."

He returns three-fifths of his starting line from last season. Tackle Charles Harris and guard Sean O'Connor are graduated, but anchor man Bobby Byrd returns at left tackle along with center Kenny Alfred and guards Andy Roof and Dan Rowlands who split time last season. Roof could slide into Harris' spot at right tackle or stay at guard if JC transfer Vaughn Lesuma or junior Derek Hunter steps up this spring at right tackle. Junior Jacob McKinney and young hosses Joe Eppele, Micah Hannam and Grady Maxwell also will get good looks this spring.

Levenseller said quarterback is the most solid position on the entire team. "In Alex Brink, we have a quarterback chosen by other Pac-10 coaches for second-team All-Pac-10 honors. Gary Rogers has shown the ability to lead this team. Kevin Lopina, a transfer from Kansas State, is very solid, and Cole Morgan has great promise. These guys are going to push each other hard. We're very fortunate."

Brink will be a senior in 2007, Rogers a junior, Lopina and Morgan third-year sophomores. Barring something unforeseen, new QB recruits Marshall Lobbestael and J.T. Levenseller will redshirt and grayshirt, respectively, this season. Arkelon Hall is at a junior college after running into academic problems and has no plans to return to WSU.

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