Cougar practice report: Hicks at center stage

SAFETY XAVIER HICKS is suspended for the first three games of the season, but he's playing a key role – in a temporary new position – this week to help get his teammates ready for Saturday's season opener against favored Oklahoma State. Wearing an orange jersey Tuesday with his fellow scout teamers, the former all-league prep quarterback did his best to mimic OSU signal caller Zac Robinson.

At Fullerton High in California, Hicks passed for 3,500 yards and 33 TDs over his junior and senior seasons. He also rushed for close to another 1,000 yards in those two seasons.

So his new role as Robinson's look-a-like isn't all that foreign.

Robinson, OSU's junior quarterback, is considered one of the most dynamic playmakers in the Big 12. He's accurate in his passing and dangerous with his feet. Last season he threw for 2,800 yards and 23 touchdowns while running for more than 800 yards and nine scores.

Head coach Paul Wulff said getting his offensive and defensive scout teams organized was a bit of a chore. "On the first day there's a bit of confusion, and understanding the tempo, and a lot of times the scouts don't always know where they're going because they're looking off a card. So, things can look ugly at times, and it was. But that's very normal. After our meetings tonight, and by tomorrow's practice, a lot of those things need to be cleaned up."

Wulff said the Cougars will have their work cut out for them on Saturday. OSU, a 6 ½-point favorite, returns large numbers of starters from last year's 7-6 Insight Bowl-winning team. "It's a big challenge for this football team to face this team."

He said the Cougars' confidence is high. "… we've been working hard, and these guys are going to be ready to play. It's just about executing what we're trying to do out there. If we can execute extremely well, then I like our chances … We just want to play hard and play smart. I think as long as we do that for four quarters, the chances are we're going to be in the ballgame and have a great chance to win it in the fourth quarter."

Quarterback Gary Rogers echoed those comments.

"We've been practicing against ourselves for so long, and we're looking to hit some new colors, so it's going to be nice." when asked about Oklahoma State. "They're going to come out fired up. They're a team that's coming off a bowl game, they're a good team, they're going to be well prepared, but we're ready for them.

"My confidence level is really high right now," he said. "I'm just working on going through my reads, reading the defenses, and seeing all the blitzes they're throwing at me right now, so that's where it's at … Me being a first-year starter coming in, I'm looking for them to throw some blitzes at me I'm going to be ready for that."

ON THE INJURY FRONT, THE Cougars absorbed a devastating blow Tuesday with the announcement that fifth-year senior Dan Rowlands, a 21-game starter who had moved to right tackle early in fall camp, is ending his football career due to what WSU termed "persistent, chronic pain in both shoulders." Because of the injuries, Rowlands had been listed on the depth chart as the No. 2 right guard behind walk-on sophomore Brian Danaher (6-3, 273) of Colfax. Another OL starter from last season, left tackle Vaughn Lesuma, is questionable for Saturday with back woes. Second-year freshman Steven Ayers (6-4, 299) of Bellingham is penned in as the starter.

The rest of the OL's starting unit looks to shape up this way: Kenny Alfred at center, Andrew Roxas at left guard and Micah Hannam at right tackle.

Punter Reid Forrest, recovering from an ankle break in July, was walking around practice Tuesday without the boot protective boot he's had since camp opened, but he still had his crutches. As for his status for Saturday, "I would say questionable … odds are, no, probably not," said Wulff. Dan Wagner looks to fill Forrest's role this weekend, with Patrick Rooney as the backup. Rooney also will be the Cougars' kickoff specialist.

* Receiver Daniel Blackledge, who missed much of August with injurym, practiced Tuesday and split time with Brandon Gibson as a punt returner.

* Receiver Jeshua Anderson, recovering from a hernia operation, rode the exercise bike Tuesday and caught passes (without running) from Marshal Lobbastael. He's not expected back in action for another month or so.

* Running back/slotback Chantz Staden looked smooth catching the ball, and just may have the best hands of the Cougar running backs. Staden also could be a fixture on special teams.

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