Olympic Games weigh on Cougs' outlook at WR

BRANDON GIBSON'S DECISION to return for his senior season rather than try the NFL takes huge uncertainty out of WSU's plans at wide receiver for 2008. The Olympic Games, however, are injecting ambiguity into the crimson flanks. Jeshua Anderson, who flashed glimpses of greatness this past fall in his 31-yards-per-catch freshman season, is aiming to represent the U.S. in Beijing this summer.

Anderson is a hurdler. A very good one. Last spring, as a high school senior, he broke the 22-year-old U.S. prep record in the 300 meter hurdles. He's so good that even after he signed his letter of intent to play football at WSU, Oregon and other schools tried to woo him away with a track scholarship.

He started his training for sprints and hurdles right after the Apple Cup and will be in uniform for WSU track coach Rick Sloan when the Cougars begin their indoor season on Friday.

"We think of Jeshua as an intermediate hurdler, but he is an outstanding sprinter too, in the 100, 200 and open 400," says Sloan.

Anderson's near-term sights are set on the Pac-10 season. Then come regionals and the NCAA championships, followed by the big test -- the Olympic trials in late June. His focus there is singular: the 400 meter hurdles.

What that means for football is that the 6-2, 190-pound Anderson won't participate in spring workouts. "But we'll get him in for meetings and make sure he learns the offense," says WSU receiver coach Mike Levenseller, who is fully behind Anderson's goal of wearing the red, white and blue.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime -– or maybe twice-in-a-lifetime -– dream for Jeshua," said Levenseller. "I think it would be pretty exciting to watch one of our receivers run the hurdles in the Olympics."

If Anderson makes the U.S. team, he'll miss all of the Cougars' August workouts and at least the season opener against Oklahoma State at Qwest Field, because the Olympic Games take place during the last three weeks of August.

"If I don't make the Olympic team, I'll go back to Pullman and start preparing for the football season," Anderson said last week following his daily three-hour-plus workout. "If I make the Olympic team, I'll have to do a lot of work to get back into football shape, especially with my hands ... I think I'll already have the stamina for the no-huddle offense, though."

Levenseller said Anderson "has a chance to be really, really good (in football), but he's got something in front of him right now that can't wait."

Anderson caught 12 passes for the Cougars in 2007 for 372 yards. One of those catches was an acrobatic, 28-yard TD grab in the Apple Cup.

Since arriving in Pullman from Woodland Hills, Calif.,, Anderson has built a reputation as a student of the game and tireless worker. He also blocks well and is aggressive – two traits that Levenseller loves in a receiver.

GIBSON WILL BE THE the Cougars' only returning starter out wide in 2008. Michael Bumpus and Charles Dillon were seniors in ‘07. Besides Anderson, there will be no shortage of contenders to replace them.

Among those to keep an eye on are:

Daniel Blackledge, a true freshman in 2007 who played on special teams. He was hampered by a hamstring that slowed his early development, but his combination of speed and passion for the game make him a prime time contender for PT in 2008. He caught one pass last season.

Anthony Houston, an athletic sophomore from San Diego with good moves and a sterling prep reputation. He's struggled with the deep ball, but has a bit of a Chris Jackson look about him.

Keith Rosenberg, the Pride of Bellevue who missed much of 2007 with an injured knee. Has looked solid when healthy. With soft hands, he could be the successor to Bumpus in the slot.

Greg Walker, a sophomore-to-be from Los Angeles who needs to put on some muscle but has the measurables to make it work.

Benny Ward, a senior from Van Nuys, Calif., who has been a special teams mainstay. Out wide, he has struggled at times getting off the line, but has improved each season and figures to be in the '08 mix. He caught three passes in '07.

Michael Willis, the one-time head hunter of the Cougar secondary who moved to receiver last spring to reduce the pounding on a bum shoulder. He was academically ineligible to play in games in 2007 but was able to practice and wound up being named scout team offensive player of the year. Super athletic, this Tacoma product could make a surprising splash in '08.

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