COUGAR NOTEBOOK: Look for better D

PULLMAN -- Washington State senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman is steadfast in his view of the 2009 Cougars. "I definitely see us going to a bowl game," he says. Part of the reason for his confidence is an improved defense. Last year, the Cougars sometimes struggled to even get lined up right on defense.

"Everything's coming together ... mentally, we're a lot tougher," Kooyman said.

"We're clearly better, obviously, from a year ago," coach Paul Wulff said. "But we've still got a lot of things we've got to get better at. These last two weeks (of preseason practices) are so critical for us, for the whole team to take another giant step."

The 6-foot-5 Kooyman boosted his weight from 242 to 260 pounds during the off-season.

"I was a little guy," Kooyman said with a smile. "I put on almost 20 pounds. Surprisingly, I do feel like I'm as fast if not faster than last year."

Kooyman, the Pride of Tahoma High, hopes the added muscle helps him significantly improve his pass rushing. He had just one sack as a part-time starter last season.

WSU's ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks also could get a lift from true freshman Travis Long. The athletic defensive end out of Gonzaga Prep in Spokane has been playing with the No. 1 defense, and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said Long has been the biggest surprise of fall camp. "I had a good idea he was going to be a good player, but I didn't know he'd be this good," Ball said. "And (defensive tackle) Justin Clayton has been playing well as a true freshman."

-- Luck-y QB: Normally, a team would have a decided advantage opening the season against a quarterback who has never thrown a pass in a college game. The Cougars, however, will be facing a very gifted freshman when they take on Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal on Sept. 5 in Pullman.

Scout.com ranked Luck the fourth-best college quarterback prospect among 2007 high school seniors. He redshirted last season, then shined in spring ball and beat out incumbent starter Tavita Pritchard.

Pritchard, a senior, is a cousin (not nephew, as has often been reported) of former WSU and NFL quarterback Jack Thompson. Luck is the son of ex-NFL quarterback Oliver Luck.

The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Luck has impressed Stanford players and coaches with his physical and mental maturity.

"The kid's got mitts for hands," offensive guard Chris Marinelli told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I'm stunned watching him.

"He takes the ball, and it's like he's flicking his wrist or something. He's the son of a professional quarterback. He just ‘gets' the game. You don't see that often at his age."

Stanford is a 16 ½-point favorite in Las Vegas.

-- Levenseller set: Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said WSU transfer J.T. Levenseller will compete for the No. 2 quarterback job, move to wide receiver or redshirt.

"When we first recruited him (out of Pullman High School), he was an outstanding quarterback, but we also thought he was athletic enough to be a receiver for us as well," Baldwin said. "We'll start him out at the quarterback position and see where he stands."

Levenseller, seeking more playing time, transferred from WSU to Eastern last week. Eagle senior Matt Nichols is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Sky Conference.

-- Dillon shines: Ex-Cougar Charles Dillon scored two touchdowns to help the Spokane Shock pound the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pa.) Pioneers 74-27 Saturday night in the ArenaCup. The championship game of the minor league pro arenafootball2 league was played in Las Vegas.

Dillon recovered a fumble in the end zone for one score and caught two passes for 41 yards, including a 21-yard TD catch.

-- Thompson tabbed: ESPN college basketball reporter Andy Katz predicts Cougar wing Klay Thompson will be one of the 50 players named to the preseason Wooden Award watch list for college basketball's player of the year.

Thompson averaged 12.5 points and 4.2 rebounds and hit 41 percent of his 3-pointers as a freshman last season.

-- Red ink arrives: The WSU Athletic Department was gushing red ink when Jim Sterk came aboard as athletic director in the summer of 2000. He turned things around immediately, but a struggling economy and declining football attendance finally caught up to the Cougars this year.

Senior associate AD Anne McCoy, the head numbers cruncher in the athletic department, said the Cougars expect to lose $200,000 for fiscal year 2009. The fiscal year ended June 30, but some financial information has yet to be finalized.

Most college athletic departments lose money, but this marks the first year the Cougars have lost money during Sterk's nine-year reign.

"Our group did a great job limiting expenses, especially given mid-year cuts," senior associate AD Anne McCoy said. "But our revenue fell short, particularly in ticket sales and annual fund donations."

Football attendance decreased during a 2-11 season, and donations to the WSU Athletic Foundation dropped approximately $1.5 million from the previous year.

The Cougars operate in the least populated area in the Pacific-10 Conference and have the smallest athletic budget, football stadium and donor base in the conference.

-- Robbins signs: The Cougars batted .400 against the pros in regards to the June baseball draft.

Incoming freshman third baseman-outfielder Adam Nelubowich and senior-to-be relief pitcher Seth Harvey turned down the pros to play for the Cougars. However, the pros did land high school recruits James Robbins and Josh Leyland and senior-to-be relief pitcher Jeremy Johnson.

Robbins, a slugging first baseman and pitcher out of Shorecrest High School in suburban Seattle, signed with Detroit just prior to last Monday's signing deadline. Leyland, a power-hitting catcher out of California, signed with Oakland last month. Johnson has performed well all summer in the Cleveland Indians farm system.

Robbins was drafted in the 30th round, Leyland in the 16th and Johnson in the 13th. Seattle nabbed Nelubowich in the 14th round, and the Los Angeles Angels took Harvey in the 43rd.

-- Lawson returns: Craig Lawson, the baseball junkie who is an assistant sports information director at WSU, recently returned from his latest baseball vacation.

After taking in minor league games in Virginia and West Virginia, Lawson said he's now seen major league, minor league or college baseball games in 44 states. He plans to add North Dakota and South Dakota to his list next year.

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