On eve of fall camp attrition rears it's head

FOUR PLAYERS, INCLUDING two starters, will not be present next week when veterans report for the start of the 2007 Cougs' fall camp. Andy Roof, who has started five games and was expected to be a key player up front at right guard, has been suspended for the semester. Along with Roof, another starter -- on defense -- plus two reserves, one on offense and one on D, will also miss the '07 season.

This is the third of 5 new articles scheduled to go live on CF.C today.

Jason Stripling, listed post-spring as the Cougs' starting weakside linebacker, and reserve wide receiver Michael Willis, have been deemed NCAA academically ineligible for the year. Reserve o-lineman Derek Hunter will also miss the coming season and is transferring.

Roof was suspended for one semester following a series of legal and personal troubles. See Big loss on OL means juggling act for Yarno for more on Roof, what it all means for the Cougar o-line going forward and what the projected starting five might now look like with Roof's departure.

Stripling, who used his redshirt year and missed all of last season after shoulder surgery, is expected to remain at WSU and practice with the team, while focusing on getting his academics back on track. He will have two more years of eligibility beginning with the 2008 season.

Hunter is transferring. It is unclear if it was a desire for a change of scenery or academics-related and Hunter was unreachable as of press time. Although he hadn't shown himself this spring as one of the leading reserves, it's a loss that will force coach George Yarno to further reshuffle his already thin unit beyond Roof.

Willis, like Stripling, also is coming off shoulder surgery. He is expected to remain at WSU and practice with the team, use his redshirt year while getting his academic house in order and would have two more years of eligibility beginning in '08.

THE LINEBACKER CORPS was a group Bill Doba said he felt fairly good about coming out of spring ball. Andy Mattingly was already going to see significant turns at linebacker when Stripling was in as the starter, and now the standout from Spokane will assume the starting role.

Co-captain Greg Trent is in the middle and Cory Evans will man the strong side. Trent has assumed a leadership role this offseason and was second on the team in tackles last season with 77 sticks. Evans, who at times turned heads as a true sophomore, registered 44 tackles in '06, with six tackles-for-loss.

Trent is built like Zeus and checks in at 5-11, 231 pounds. The same can also be said of Evans (6-1, 237) and Mattingly (6-4, 241), both of whom have packed on additional muscle since last season.

The concern isn't so much the starting trio -- Trent, Evans and Mattingly all had solid spring sessions. The issue with the loss of Stripling is one of depth. There's also a question of flexibility, such as if the Cougs wanted to employ the 3-4 in certain games or situations, as they did last year when they found themselves without their top three d-tackles due to injury.

Alex Hamill showed marked improvement this spring and will challenge to be the first linebacker off the bench, along with JC transfer Ken Dunn. True freshmen Hallston Higgins and Marshal Pirtz will also be in the mix, and all three are expected to be key special team performers for the '07 Cougs. Higgins enrolled early at WSU and has been participating in the Cougs' voluntary summer workout program.

Willis' departure is not expected to have nearly the same impact. Wide receiver is the deepest position on the '07 Cougars, and he was likely to be hard pressed this season to climb over the talent ahead of him particularly after spending his first two years playing strong safety for Washington State.

A shoulder injury necessitated the position change to WR for Willis towards the end of last season. Doba said Willis would benefit in having a year to better learn the intricacies of the position and that both Willis' and Stripling's shoulders may, ultimately, also be better served by sitting out. While one or both may be limited to no-contact and particularly early on, both Stripling and Willis are expected to continue practicing with team over the course of the 2007-08 year.

Looking beyond the four listed above, summer school grades do not come out until late next week. There are, like just about every year at every school, a few who will have needed to have done well in their summer school coursework. Until those final grades are in, nothing is ever for certain and so a possibility, by definition, exists for more academic casualties -- that is the bottom line. That said, the early evidence, however, does not indicate further academic casualties from the team to be probable.

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