Spring Ball: D-line, walk-ons make a mark

PULLMAN – Spring workouts at Washington State don't end until the final practice on Saturday, but Cougar co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears was ready Thursday to hand out some awards. Members of the defensive line are among the chosen, as are a pair of invited junior college walk-ons.

"Easton Johnson and Myron Beck have probably been the biggest surprises of the spring," said Sears. "Andy Mattingly has made a lot of progress and Kevin Kooyman, from last fall to now, has made a lot of progress. I've got to throw Andy Roof in there too. He's come back from some adversity and has taken on some leadership so he's been a real pleasant surprise for us."

Johnson and Beck, both defensive backs, were invited walk ons in the recruiting class unveiled in February.

Both are local products. The 5-11, 175-pound Johnson was an All-Seamount League running back and punter at Hazen High in Renton before heading to Feather River College in Northern California, where he played receiver and defensive back. The 5-11, 207-pound Beck prepped at Seattle's Ingraham High and then spent a redshirt year at Eastern Arizona before transferring to Glendale Community College, where last season he led the league interceptions.

SEARS SAID HE'S ALSO been pleased with Chima Nwachukwu's move to safety and and Alfonso Jackson's move to corner. Nwachukwu also gives a thumbs up to the experiment, which now looks permanent.

"I love it," he said. "Playing safety allows you to be in the middle of the field, move around a little bit, and be free. In high school I played three years at safety, and one year at corner, so it's a good fit."

Asked about the future plans of his highly recruited younger brother, Uzoma, Nwachukwu joked, "He's acting like a little superstar right now, I can barely talk to him on the phone without having to set up an appointment."

Nwachukwu said he'll be heading home to Texas for a visit in May "and I'm going to try to talk to him and get him up here." Uzoma, a receiver, has roughly a dozen scholarship offers so far, with WSU, Notre Dame and Texas A&M among them.

Nwachukwu also shared insights Thursday about the new coaching staff. "They're bringing intensity and unity to the team, some things we lacked in last year," he said, adding that the new player Unity Council is a positive creation because it "allows the players to make some decisions with team issues. It's a selected few out of each position group that the team selected to run the council."

ON OFFENSE THURSDAY, receiver Greg Walker left practice early with some type of upper-body injury. His absence, along with Benny Ward's (no reason reported at press time) gave fellow wide-outs Randy Johnson, Reid McEllrath, and Michael Willis some reps with the ones.

Brandon Gibson led all receivers with five receptions. Despite a pair of drops, Willis was able to haul in four Rogers passes. Rogers also had a pair of scrambles for good gains. Mobility outside the pocket may be the one department where No. 2 QB Kevin Lopina has a slight edge on Rogers.

Lopina found Johnson three times on the day. Johnson, a walk on out of Lincoln High in Tacoma, has impressive size -- 6-4, 201 -- and has shown good hands throughout spring ball..

Second-year freshman QB Marshall Lobbestael got to see a considerable number of reps, with the highlight being a deep pass to a wide open running back Jace Perry on a strange play the defense seemed to give up on after chasing down Lobbestael.

• Sears said Markus Dawes had surgery on his left shoulder Wednesday and should be home sometime Friday. Things went well, he said, and Dr. Ed Tingstad told Dawes he should be ready to go full tilt starting Sept. 1. With Dawes out of action, sophomore-to-be Romeo Pellum looks to be the starting corner opposite Jackson. Sears said he's been impressed with Pellum's play – which included stripping the ball Thursday from Daniel Blackledge.

• Walk on corner Tali Talakai, a transfer from Jamestown College in North Dakota, has impressed Sears this spring and looked solid Thursday playing tight coverage on a series of plays. He prepped at Chief Sealth High in Seattle. Beck, at safety, also looked sharp in coverage on Thursday.

• Safety Xavier Hicks nabbed an interception Thursday after a Gary Rogers pass bounced off the helmet of tight end Devin Frischknecht.

• Running back Chris Ivory, who missed much of the spring season to focus on academics, was in action Thursday and did well. He scored the day's only for-sure touchdown on a short run.

• Because of injuries, the Crimson & Gray game finale to spring workouts, scheduled for Saturday, will simply be a practice rather than a full-blown scrimmage. The public is welcome to attend. The proceedings start at 11 am.

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