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WSU stadium news and practice notes


COUGARS

OK, we're done with our stories for tomorrow. On the link is the unedited version of the Martin Stadium expansion story. And below that are some notes from today's practice. Read on.
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• Here's the Martin Stadium story ...

PULLMAN – Late Saturday afternoon, Washington State University safety Chima Nwachukwu leaped in the east end zone of Martin Stadium and intercepted a Southern Methodist pass, basically ensuring the Cougars' 30-27 overtime victory.

Seventy hours later athletic director Jim Sterk stood in nearly the same spot and announced the school was leaping forward with the stalled Phase III renovation of Martin Stadium.

"This has been a long haul getting Phase III to this point," Sterk said Tuesday of the ongoing changes of the venerable stadium. "It hasn't been for the weak of heart."

WSU has already spent $27 million on the first two phases of stadium renovation, planning for which started in 2003 and construction in 2006. Those phases included expanding the north concourse and rebuilding the east entrance and walkways.

But Phase III would dwarf the previous changes. Plans call for 16 luxury boxes (costing $35,000 to $50,000 annually), 31 loge boxes (four or six semi-private seats costing $9,000 to $15,000) and 1,217 club seats ($1,700 to $2,000). All told, it will add 2,200 premium seats to the stadium's 35,117 listed capacity.

Originally budgeted at $40 million, Sterk said the shrinking economy, lower borrowing and construction costs and some design changes have cut about $8 million off the project's cost.

However, that same economy, with tight budgets and credit, forced the project's postponement last year.

Now, Sterk said, the silent portion of fundraising has brought in $16 million in donations and pledges from some 100 donors, and it is time to go public even though the football program has struggled the past two years.

"It's probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as far as where those construction costs are," Sterk said. "It's not going to go backwards, I don't think. It's only going to get more expensive.

"It's also an opportunity to show were are building a foundation for our football program, so it can continue to move forward in the Pac-10."

The renovation, Sterk said, would double the amount of money the stadium produces for the athletic department.

For his part, football coach Paul Wulff sees a recruiting benefit.

"We're doing an outstanding job recruiting now," Wulff said, "but this will just give us another boost.

"There is a direct correlation (between) facilities and recruitment, as there has been at Oregon State and Oregon."

"We expect the same at WSU," Sterk added.

The person who spearheaded the Autzen Stadium project, former Cougar football player and Oregon athletic director Bill Moos, attended the press conference to expand on what the stadium expansion would mean to WSU.

"It's extremely important," Moos said. "This is a very competitive conference. The young people today will many time chose their school in regards to the facilities. And the stadium is a big part of that."

Sterk said groundbreaking will occur after WSU receives deposits for 80 percent of the premium seats, with a goal of opening for the 2012 season, though that could be moved up if fundraising goes faster than anticipated.

Currently, Sterk said, there are commitments for seven or eight luxury boxes and 26 of the 31 loge boxes. "We really haven't gone out and sold club seats yet," Sterk said, though that effort began Tuesday.

Asked about state funding, Sterk said the school isn't seeking any.

"President (Elson) Floyd has been adamant that at this time it's not appropriate to ask for stadium support," he said, obviously referring to the University of Washington's request for $150 million from the legislature to help renovate Husky Stadium.

"However, if that changes," Sterk added, "if the governor and legislature have an interest in funding stadium remodels at this time, then we will have a bill ready."

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• For more on the Martin Stadium remodel, click here.

•••

• If you think back to the Stanford season opener, and I know that's hard to do because the week's just run together, remember what Chris Owusu did to the Cougars? A 63-yard scoring pass. An 85-yard kickoff return. Well that was only the beginning for the Stanford wide receiver. He did even more against San Jose State last Saturday. "I talked to Chris before the game and told him we needed three explosive plays out of him," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday, before going over his touchdown catch and kickoff returns. "Maybe I should ask for more next time." ... The reason we brought that up is WSU just lost one of its few big playmakers, running back James Montgomery (see previous post for full story). To summarize, he had to have emergency surgery for a leg injury that will not only cost him this season but, as Wulff revealed Tuesday night, might mean the end of his football career. To make up the slack – though really Montgomery's skills were such there is no way to replace them this year – Dwight Tardy and Logwone Mitz will get more carries. Marcus Richmond will also see more time and true freshman Carl Winston, one of the most impressive of the frosh in my eyes, will be put on "red-alert." He'll travel this week and if needed will play. ... That's a step down from freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel's status. Wulff said he's still looking for ways to get the freshman quarterback in games. He did say, however, if the season wears on and Marshall Lobbestael plays well enough, there are no injuries, and Tuel hasn't appeared, they would go ahead and shut him down for the year. "If we play him, then we have to play him a certain amount moving forward," Wulff said. "We're just going to kind of play it by ear the next few games." ... USC will put a completely different offense on the field Saturday than the Cougars have been defending lately. The Trojans will run and run some more. Wulff said he thinks the Cougar defensive line is better prepared for such an eventuality this season, but it will put a lot of pressure on freshmen Travis Long and Dan Spitz at the defensive ends. How they respond will be interesting to see. Long, who played most every snap last week, sat out contract drills at practice Tuesday as a precautionary measure, giving the true freshman a chance to rest and recuperate. ... Part of the reason those two and freshman tackle Anthony Laurenzi played so much last week, Wulff said, is because they supplied a pass rush and that was needed. ... Asked how he's going to keep a young team's focus away from the ancillary things like the white horse running around, the band playing the fight song and 80,000 fans screaming, Wulff answered jokingly "I guess if I shot that horse when it came out, that might help." He went on to say this was an important lesson the young players had to learn, how to lock in and concentrate on the game.

• That's it for tonight. We'll be back in the morning. Until then …




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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