Bump: Disgruntled to record-breaking leader

PULLMAN -- Michael Bumpus is a few games away from becoming the busiest receiver in Washington State football history. Not so long ago, Bumpus was a few minutes away from transferring. "I was basically gone," Bumpus recalled. "I had moved my stuff into storage."

Eventually, cooler heads prevailed. After, that is, hot-headed Mike Levenseller had his say in a one-sided telephone conversation with Bumpus when the disgruntled receiver was home for the holidays in January of 2006.

"I'd finally had enough," explained Levenseller, WSU's fiery offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. "I didn't want to lose him, but I'd had enough.

"It wasn't pretty."

That's ironic, because Bumpus and Levenseller have forged a beautiful relationship since those tense times in '06.

"He has a phenomenal work ethic," Levenseller said. "And he's a great leader.'

"He gives me a lot of responsibility," said Bumpus, a senior co-captain. "He puts me in charge of the guys, emotionally and mentally."

BUMPUS, DISSATISFIED WITH his secondary role as a slot receiver and temporarily suspended from WSU for poor grades, said he "talked to a few schools" about transferring after the 2005 season. UNLV and Colorado State were high on his list.

"I was insane for a little bit," Bumpus said with one of his frequent smiles. "I wasn't thinking right. I was just frustrated. I was young. I didn't really understand my role."

Eventually, Bumpus returned to Pullman, and he soon got squared away in the classroom. He responded with career highs of 60 catches (best on the team) and 558 receiving yards last season, despite a high ankle sprain that hindered or sidelined him the last three games. Bumpus made All-Pac-10 honorable mention for the second straight year.

"I'm really glad I stayed," Bumpus said.

That sentiment is shared by teammates like senior quarterback Alex Brink.

"He's a guy you look up to as a leader," Brink said. "He's out here doing extra work, and he works hard in the summer. He leads by example. The biggest thing about Michael is that he treats everybody the same way. You could be a freshman or you could be a senior and it doesn't matter.

"You're still a teammate. You're still one of the guys."

OF COURSE, BUMPUS is much more than "one of the guys" when it comes to making the Cougars' offense go. He's 51 shy of Hugh Campbell's 45-year-old school record of 176 career receptions (set in three seasons). Bumpus was zeroing in on Nakoa McElrath's 2001 record of 72 catches in one season before he was injured last year.

The 6-foot, 198-pound Bumpus is tied with Mark Williams (1966-68) for the school record of three punt return touchdowns in his career. Bumpus needs just 87 more punt return yards to break the career record of 781 held by Kitrick Taylor (1982-83, 85-86).

Bumpus averaged 11.5 yards per punt return in 2004 and wound up earning Freshman All-America and second-team All-Pac-10 honors. A school-record 87-yard punt return against Nevada helped Bumpus average 13.6 yards per return (seventh in school history) in 2005, but he dropped off to 5.5 yards last season, when his blocking was dismal.

"I love punt return," said Bumpus, who raves about the schemes and enthusiasm of new special teams guru David Walkosky. "That's probably the simplest position. You can catch the ball, find the wall and go. There's no route running, no ‘You have to be here at this time,' no chemistry with the quarterback.

"Back at home (Culver City, a Los Angeles suburb), we used to play ‘Kill the Carrier' when I was younger. Just 20 guys out there, whoever has the ball, go get 'em. That's how I feel back there (returning punts). It's fun. You can change the whole momentum of the game."

A human development major, Bumpus has struggled in the classroom at times. USC cited his shaky high school grades as a reason to back out of a scholarship offer, but Bumpus says he'll live up to his promise to his mother and earn his degree even if he plays pro ball.

As Bumpus proved last year when he stayed at WSU, he likes to finish what he starts.

"I'm a man of my word," Bumpus said. "When it came down to it, I didn't want to bail out on my teammates or my coaches or the whole Pullman community. They've been so good to me."

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