We’ve got a couple of web-exclusive items for you tonight. The first is … no, we’re not telling. Hit the link if you want to find out.
• The afternoon practice featured two long scrimmage sessions that pretty much consisted of ones-vs.-ones and twos-vs.-twos. As my story says, the defense did a good job of containing the offense. And if you’re wondering, Kevin Lopina ran the No. 1 group, Marshall Lobbestael the No. 2, though both had their ups and downs. … The biggest up may have just been some lengthy appearances by sophomore outside linebacker Louis Bland. Bland, who started nine games last year, has been taking it slow trying to recover from a knee injury suffered in the spring. There is a strong possibility he may not be ready for the opener against Stanford on Sept. 5. But Wednesday he felt good enough to get into the scrimmages. By the end of the afternoon, he was working with the No. 1 unit. Coach Paul Wulff addressed the play of Bland and Bernard Wolfgramm, who is also taking it slow after back surgery. “Both guys, they’re not 100 percent, and they’re trying to play themselves and get themselves in shape,” Wulff said, “and get themselves ready with the hope they’ll continue to progress. … (Bland) hadn’t played and he felt up to it and that’s a good sign.”
• Last year at this time there were quite a few players on the sidelines, sitting out practice with ailments ranging from sore hamstrings to sprained fingers. After four days, WSU had its first two players have to sit out, receiver Jared Karstetter (hip pointer) and defensive end Jesse Feagin (muscle cramps). Quite a difference. “Ya,” Wulff said. “It was what I was trying to tell people a year ago at this time. It didn’t have to be that way. That’s why there are things we have to continue to implement in our program to alleviate that kind of stuff. We’ve made a lot of strides in that area. … We’re getting a little tougher, we’ve gotten a little stronger. That’s what it takes if you’re going to be a college football player.”
• I talked with true freshman Esa Johnwell today and decided to tell his story. It’s only on the web …
PULLMAN – It may seem like a long walk, but it’s one Esa Johnwell decided to take, in part because he had two brothers blazing the trail before him.
Johnwell is walk-on wide receiver with Washington State University, a rare Southern California athlete who made the trek to the Palouse without a scholarship.
But the 6-foot-2 lanky wideout is familiar with Pullman thanks to two stepbrothers who starred at WSU before him: safeties Hamza and Husain Abdullah.
“I was up here my freshman and sophomore years for camps,” explained Johnwell, part of a blended family that includes 11 children, “and talked to (receivers coach Mike Levenseller) and he was like ‘ya, we really like you.’ And he invited me to come up here.”
Johnwell isn’t worried about playing in his brothers’ long shadow – both are still in the National Football League; Hamza with Cleveland and Husain with Minnesota – partly because he plays on the other side of the ball and partly because he’s never had to before.
“They play defense, I play offense,” he said Wednesday after morning practice. “Of course, when something happens, someone says something, like Levy saying ‘you have better hands than your brother.’ And stuff like that, joking around.
“But there’s not really a whole shadow thing going on.”
His elder stepbrothers both starred at Pomona High while Johnwell played up the 210 freeway at Duarte High, a school not known for its football prowess.
“I don’t think they had even won a league title before,” he said, “but we won the last four, I think.”
After having been offered just one scholarship out of high school, and that from a smaller school in the East, Johnwell decided to take up receivers coach Mike Levenseller up on his offer and walk-on at his brothers’ alma mater.
“Genes, quite frankly that’s why,” Levenseller answered when asked what he sees in Johnwell. “(Esa’s) very similar to Hamza in that he’s got those long appendages but he’s together more, more developed earlier. I don’t know if he’s quite as strong as Hamza was at that stage, but probably.
“He’s got good hands, does a nice job. I think he’s got a chance.”
Levenseller said they nicknamed Hamza the Praying Mantis because all of he was long and gangly.
“Look what he did with it,” Levenseller said of Hamza, a five-year NFL veteran, “and look what he’s done since.”
Not only do Hamza and Husain help Johnwell with football – “We talk every day after practice,” Johnwell said. “They update me with their camps and I do the same.” – they have also helped just by being here.
“Pullman people are really nice out here, they make me feel welcome, especially the football team,” Johnwell said. “Everybody knows my brothers. I just basically just stepped in.”
• This and that: Former Cougar defensive back Paul Sorensen was at practice and he said there is a noticeable difference in the tempo and productivity of practice this year. … Chad Eaton showed up for the afternoon session with his right arm wrapped. The former defensive lineman had to have his elbow drained. There were comments about getting hurt watching practice, but not to his face. … Season-ticket sales are off about 15 percent from last season, but that seems to be pretty typical around the Pac-10. So far more than 11,000 season tickets have been sold. About 24,000 tickets have been sold for the Seattle game Sept. 12 vs. Hawaii, which is down from this point last year (Oklahoma State) but even or better than the two previous years. … Punter Reid Forrest had a little video camera out today and had one of the kickers video his release from the side. The junior said the usual high angle cameras miss some aspects of his release he needs to fine tune. Whatever, it seemed to work, because most of Forrest’s punts traveled in the 55- to 60-yard range. … WSU will scrimmage Saturday in Martin Stadium starting at 2:30 p.m. There will be some practice involved but much of the session will be devoted to scrimmaging.
• That’s it for this afternoon, except for this link to the Associated Press’ season preview. As always, we’ll be back in the morning. Until then …