The last day without pads passed without the same energy of the first day. But that's to be expected. The workmanlike day might have been even more impressive, however, because it looked like the Cougars were a little sharper offensively – though the wide receivers struggled to catch the ball at times – and seemed to be in the right spots defensively throughout the drills. One other thing: There are quite a few players who have added muscle during the winter and it shows, especially without pads. This is a team that's starting to look like it belongs in the Pac-10. Read on for our story.
• Here's the unedited version of our story for Saturday morning. It's on linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis.
PULLMAN – If Washington State's football team wants to rejoin the Pac-10 Conference's elite, the Cougars know they must discover hidden gems in the recruiting mines.
This year's Hope Diamond: Alex Hoffman-Ellis.
The 6-foot-1, 236-pound sophomore was a late find last season, coming in after fall camp had started. But he sparkled enough during his redshirt year to be named the starting middle linebacker heading into spring.
And he's the definition of an unpolished nugget.
"He's very young as a football player," said Washington State head coach Paul Wulff. "One year of high school football and one year of junior college."
Hoffman-Ellis attended Los Angeles' Hamilton High, but only played his senior year due to academic deficiencies. That one year, however, was enough. Hoffman-Ellis was bit by the football bug.
"When people say they eat, sleep and breathe football," he said after WSU second spring practice Friday, "that's what I do. ... My mind never leaves football."
Despite the lack of experience, his potential earned him a chance at suburban Moorpark JC. Being fast – he says he was timed in 4.54 in a 40-yard-sprint in JC, though he admits he's "gotten a lot bigger since then" – didn't hurt.
After one year playing for Moorpark, Hoffman-Ellis was surprised to discover his high school grades and test scores made him eligible immediately at a four-year school. And, when another California junior college player, defensive lineman Josh Luapo, failed to finish needed work last summer and had to delay his enrollment at WSU, a scholarship was available. It went to Hoffman-Ellis.
Now he's the heir-apparent to four-year starter Greg Trent at middle linebacker.
"It's going to be very tough to fill Greg Trent's shoes," Hoffman-Ellis admits. "He's a great player as well as someone I consider a buddy."
And there's no guarantee the shoes are his to keep.
"There are definitely no starting positions set in stone," Wulff said. "Everything is in pencil right now. The players are going to set the depth chart by their performance and you never know, we could move a more experienced player into the middle."
There might be more experienced players, but it would be tough to find one more dedicated than Hoffman-Ellis.
"Last night, after the first day of spring ball," he said, "I couldn't go to sleep without thinking in my head, 'Hoffman, Hoffman, where should you be?' I just kept thinking this in my head and I lost sleep over it.
"I think about football so much and I think this team can do great things."
SPRING NOTES: How were things going for the offense Thursday? Anthony Houston caught a Kevin Lopina pass, turned to go upfield and had the ball knocked loose. It popped forward into Aaron Gehring's hands, and the tight end turned and took off upfield. ... The best catch of the day was made by junior transfer Johnny Forzani, who got behind the defense but had to stretch out as far as possible to gather in Marshall Lobbestael's scoring pass. ... Senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman didn't practice the first two days as he recovers from a strained back. ... Single-game tickets for road games and for the Seattle game with Hawaii go on sale today (Saturday) starting at 8 a.m. at wsucougars.com.
Meet the new Cougars
Transfer from Glendale College in California
Williams redshirted last year but showed enough to earn the left guard spot with the top unit as spring starts. "Redshirting was pretty hard, just sitting there watching and not being able to play," he said. Though a little undersized at 6-foot-4 and 293 pounds, Williams has other strengths. "My speed and just getting after it," he said. "I have a mentality of a defensive player." Williams grew up in Washington, D.C., and moved with his mother to Pasadena in ninth grade. A graduate of Pasadena High, he earned his AA at Glendale College before heading north. When asked his goals for the upcoming season, the soft-spoken Williams answered, "just to be a great all-around player and one of the best O-linemen out here. To do whatever I have to do to help this team win."
• That's it for this evening. We'll be back tomorrow. Until then …