Cougs getting tougher; wideouts have big day

PULLMAN -- Two-a-days, a preseason staple for college football teams for decades, have all but disappeared in recent years due to the increased emphasis on unofficial summer workouts that keep most BCS players on campus virtually year-round. Paul Wulff endured plenty of two-a-days when he played at Washington State in the 1980s, and he maintains that it made players tougher than today's players.

Thus, it's worth noting that WSU players earned kudos Tuesday from Wulff after they practiced twice in one day for the second time this fall.

"It was a productive two-a-day," Wulff said after wrapping up the second session. "It was a good day."

Michael Willis, the former safety who sat out last year due to academic ineligibility, continued to make a strong bid to start at wide receiver by hauling in two touchdown passes from Gary Rogers.

Promising freshmen receivers Jared Karstetter and Kevin Norrell spent the day with the No. 2 offense -- they've seen time with the 1's -- but projected starter Benny Ward did himself no favors. The senior let a high but catchable pass slip through his fingers in the end zone, then dropped an easy chance along the sideline. He later made a difficult grab over the middle with cornerback Romeo Pellum draped all over him.

Senior tight end Devin Frischknecht and sophomore safety Chima Nwachukwu engaged in some great battles. Credit Frischknecht with a TKO in the end, since he reeled in a Rogers pass and shook loose from a tackle attempt by Nwachukwu to "score" before whistles blew prematurely.

True freshman Cory Mackay, playing outside linebacker with the 2's just two days after moving from tight end, provided the hit of the day. The 6-foot-4, 246-pound Mackay raced in untouched on a blitz and sent running back Chantz Staden flying halfway to Colfax when Staden attempted to block him. Staden did prevent the sack, however.

Senior cornerback Markus Dawes, a potential starter who must avoid contact while recovering from shoulder surgery, intercepted No. 2 QB Kevin Lopina. Staden, Norrell and running back Marcus Richmond recorded flashy, one-handed catches in one-on-one drills. Lopina and running back Logwone Mitz broke loose on impressive runs.

SINCE HIS RETURN TO PULLMAN, Wulff has stressed the need for better discipline and mental toughness on the Cougars. The coach says he sees progress. "They're learning how to win, and that's the thing that I know they don't necessarily know how to do on a day-to-day and weekly basis," Wulff said.

Chris Ball, WSU's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, said the mental part of the game is a big part of his game plan on defense. "The first thing we want to do is attack adversity," Ball said. "If something bad happens, go on to the next play."

THE INTENSITY OF THE NEW coaching staff, coupled with the rapid pace of the newly installed no-huddle offense, tends to raise the tempo of WSU practices to warp speed. Still, it probably seems like a walk in the park to Joe Campbell.Campbell, a redshirt freshman from little Tri-Cities Prep, is buried deep on the depth chart once again after performing yeoman service during spring ball due to health and academic issues with other running backs. At one point, Campbell was the only healthy running back.

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy, one of a long list of current and former Cougar coaches who routinely refers to Campbell as "a great kid," found himself fretting about Campbell having time to stay sufficiently hydrated in the spring."I wanted to give him one of those helmets with the straws coming down. You know, like the beer hats," Sturdy joked.

RICH RASMUSSEN, WSU'S seemingly tireless tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, is unusual for a college football coach -- particularly at the Pac-10 level -- in that he did not play football in college. Rasmussen's collegiate sports career consisted of two years of basketball at Tacoma Community College. His football career came to painful end at Lincoln High in Tacoma. "I broke my ankle on the first day of two-a-days my junior and senior years," Rasmussen explained.

Health issues continue to reek havoc with WSU's two-deeps. Starting outside linebacker Cory Evans left practice with an unspecified injury; starting cornerback Alfonso Jackson is still out with a hamstring injury; and potential starting safety Easton Johnson sat out the afternoon practice due to illness.

Offensive guard Steven Ayers, battling an apparent virus, was held out of the afternoon workout after seeing limited duty in the morning. Freshman wideout Michael Vandenkolk watched the afternoon session in a walking boot on his left foot. A WSU spokesperson said Vandenkolk's injury has yet to be determined.

• Cougar quarterbacking legend Jason Gesser was on hand Tuesday watching the team's morning workout before heading over to Idaho to see how his old buddy Robb Akey is faring. Gesser, who spends his winters and springs in the Arena Football League, is the offensive coordinator at Franklin Pierce High in Tacoma

• The pace of ticket sales to the Cougars' Aug. 30 season opener against Oklahoma State at Seattle's Qwest Field continues well ahead of last season's WSU-San Diego State game at Qwest. At this point a year ago, a little more than 19,000 seats had been sold to the SDSU game. The tally for the Oklahoma State is now at 26,270. The San Diego State wound up drawing 46,000, so the pace this year has WSU thinking in the neighborhood of 60,000 for Oklahoma State. Kickoff is at 12:30.

• Long-time assistant director David Lang will succeed Rob Oviatt as director of WSU's strength and conditioning department. At the same time, the department is bolstering its staff with the hiring of Darin Lovat, a former EWU staffer most recently at Boston College, and Marco Candido, a former UCLA strength coach who comes to Pullman from Drake University. Lang is entering his 11th year at WSU.

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