WSU coaches love looks of redshirting players

PULLMAN -- They are the forgotten fellows of football, the scout team understudies who never get studied by fans, the box of baking soda left forgotten in the back of the refrigerator long ago. Many redshirt players work every bit as hard as the big-name stars at practices, weight training sessions and meetings, but glory in college football is saved for those who play on Saturdays.

Coaches, however, know the value of redshirting a player. The mental and physical demands of college football make redshirting standard for freshmen, and Washington State's new coaching staff also prefers to redshirt many junior college transfers.

"A lot of times when you get a junior college player, if you get one good year out of him, you're doing good," said Chris Ball, WSU's assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach."When you can redshirt him, he can learn the system. You can bring him back in January and he can compete all spring. Then you've got an opportunity to get two good years out of him."

WSU coaches have been drooling all fall over JC redshirts Zack Williams and Bernard Wolfgramm. Both are desperately needed tackles: Williams on offense, Wolfgramm on defense.

"Zack Williams -- he's a ball-playing Jesse," Ball said while immediately acknowledging that he's not at all certain what that means. "He's a player. He can play. He works his butt off for us on scout team. Sometimes you bring guys in and they expect to play, and some days they look like they're thinking, ‘What am I doing here?' Zack shows up every day."

Todd Sturdy, WSU's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, offered similar praise for Williams' heart and skill."We're real pleased with what he's doing," Sturdy said. "He's got a great motor. He's got a chance to be a great player."

The same can be said for Wolfgramm. Like Williams, Wolfgramm is a junior out of the California junior college system."Bernard is doing a great job," Ball said. "He's gotten stronger since he's been here."

"He's got a great motor," Sturdy said, repeating one of his most lofty compliments for a player. "He could have a great career."

Two other transfers who figure prominently in WSU's plans for 2009 are running back James Montgomery and cornerback Brandon Jones. Both played at California last season and will have two years of eligibility left after being required to sit out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.

"James Montgomery is really having a great fall," Sturdy said."James is a really, really good football player," Ball said. "He works his tail off for us.'

Scout.com ranked Montgomery 20th among high school senior running backs in 2005. Jones, one of the fastest Cougars, starred at O'Dea High School in Seattle.

"He's a real good player," Sturdy said. "He lines up with Brandon and Jeshua (speedy wide receivers Brandon Gibson and Jeshua Anderson) and those guys and holds his own."

Sturdy and Ball may find themselves racing to head coach Paul Wulff's office at the end of the season to plead their case for coaching Cory Mackay. The All-State receiver from Eastlake High was moved from wide receiver to tight end to outside linebacker in short order at the start of fall camp, but he might shift back to tight end in the spring.

"We'll just have to play that out and see what happens," Sturdy said. "Obviously, we want to do what's best for Cory and the team."

"We're going to put him wherever he can help us quickest," Ball said. "He's got a defensive mentality. He's tough, strong. He can run. He'll be a good football player."

Everyone knew the Cougars were getting a good high school football player when they landed Pullman's J.T. Levenseller, but not everyone was certain the Cougars were getting a good college quarterback. The son of receivers coach Mike Levenseller has won over many of the doubters this fall.

"He's really improved a ton," Sturdy said. "He's getting better every day."The thing about him is, he's such a competitor. I've been very pleased with him. His arm strength is real good. He can make all the throws."

In addition to Mackay and Levenseller, freshmen redshirting who were singled out for praise by various coaches include defensive ends Dan Spitz and Adam Coerper, tight ends Andrei Lintz (who has yet to practice due to a broken leg) and Skylar Stormo, cornerbacks Kevin Frank and Daniel Simmons, offensive tackle Tyson Pencer (who underwent shoulder surgery but should be ready by spring practice) and safety LeAndre Daniels.

"Skylar Stormo is making tremendous strides on a weekly basis," tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Rich Rasmussen said."Spitz is a big kid, an athletic kid," Ball said. "He watches a lot of tape. He spends a lot of time with Coach Roberson (defensive line coach Malik Roberson)."

Coaches also had kind remarks for two sophomores who were late transfers: wide receiver Jeffrey Solomon, who followed Wulff from Eastern Washington, and JC linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis."Alex is really athletic," Ball said. "He can really run. He's a little raw."

Ball said Hoffman-Ellis will "probably" wind up at middle linebacker, where the departure of senior Greg Trent will be felt next year. The Cougars appear destined to field another inexperienced lineup next season as the rebuilding process continues, but the coaching staff seems confident the 2008 redshirts will help shorten the period of recovery.

"We've just got to keep working our butts off," Sturdy said. "That's one of the things about this staff: They roll up their sleeves and work hard coaching and recruiting."


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