DAY 9: Cougars hunt, kill...and run

PULLMAN--Paul Wulff said when he was hired that Cougars hunt and kill. Well, add "run" to that list. Unlike many coaches, Wulff rarely runs players at the end of practice. He prefers to keep practices operating at an unusually high tempo, which requires a great deal of running. Wulff said it's all part of his desire to train the Cougs to have a little extra left in the tank in the fourth quarter.

The head man broke up the 2-hour practice Wednesday morning by pushing players through a rapid-fire series of sprints with a half hour to go.

And the Cougars responded impressively.

Cornerback Tyrone Justin may have still been panting from the sprints when Brandon Gibson blew past Justin to haul in a perfectly lofted 50-yard touchdown pass from Gary Rogers.

The No. 2 offense then took the field, and Kevin Lopina quickly found Reid McEllrath over the middle for a big gain.

One play later, the defense rose to the occasion when safety Xavier Hicks recovered a fumble by running back Logwone Mitz. Later, Daniel Simmons picked off third-string quarterback Marshall Lobbestael near the defense's 10-yard line.

Wulff acknowledged progress by the offense, but added, "The defense was probably as flat as they've been."

Marcus Richmond lost a fumble, which has been a problem for the running back. Later, Richmond became the second running back in as many days to be pancaked by freshman linebacker Cory Mackay when trying to block Mackay. This time, Mackay did his damage during a 1-on-1 pass rushing drill.

California transfer James Montgomery flashed some of the skills that made him one of the most coveted high school running backs in the nation a few years ago. Montgomery must redshirt this season after transferring, so he's rarely been carrying the ball in practice.

WULFF SAID outside linebacker Cory Evans is expected to return to practice next week with a small cast protecting an injured thumb ligament. Evans was hurt during practice Tuesday afternoon.

Another returning starter on defense, tackle A'i Ahmu, was injured Wednesday. Ahmu sat out much of the practice. Freshman receiver Michael Vandenkolk again watched practice with a protective boot on his left foot. Wulff said Vandenkolk is having trouble with an old foot injury.

Defensive end Matt Mullennix (shoulder) was back on the field during "live" action on Wednesday. But some other potentially key players have continued to see little or no action due to various bumps and bruises. Wulff said the Cougars may lighten up at practice Thursday because of the mounting injuries.

WULFF OFFERED SOME interesting comments on three returning players who are making strong bids for starting jobs.

Michael Willis, wide receiver: "It's pretty evident when he's on the field we're a little bit better team...He's growing as a player. We're very encouraged with his growth."

Andy Mattingly, defensive end: "He's had a little up-and-down camp. He was struggling a little bit, then he's made a little surge here for a few days. . He's going to have bumps in the road (because of his move from outside linebacker) as his growth develops, but he has a made a big step the last three or four practices."

Romeo Pellum, cornerback: "Romeo's got talent, but he's got a lot of issues he's working on to be a guy we all can trust. If he develops his consistency as a person off the field first, then he'll ultimately help the football team."

WULFF HAS MADE mention that a culture change is needed out on the Palouse. He says there has been progress in that regard, but more work remains. A noteworthy exception is middle linebacker Greg Trent, the gritty senior from Keller, Texas.

"He's done a great job as a vocal leader," said Wulff, entering his first season as head coach at Washington State. "I worry sometimes that he tries to do too much.

"He's very much an excellent leader. He has a lot of awesome qualities that help the football team."

Senior offensive tackle Vaughn Lesuma seconds the motion.

"Greg Trent is such an influential player on and off the field, because everything he does and says comes from the heart," Lesuma said. "We're really fortunate and lucky to have him."

Lesuma became a Trent fan for life ("I love the kid") after a player-approved ban on drinking alcohol during the summer voluntary workout period was violated. Trent, waving a copy of the Seattle Times article detailing past misdeeds of Cougar players, shed tears of passion when he spoke to the team prior to 6 a.m. running drills the player leadership mandated for the entire team because of the drinking.

"He stepped up and said he's not a great speaker, but he let his heart go, and to be honest, it was one of the finest speeches I've ever heard in my life," Lesuma said.

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