Washington State is officially one-third of the way through spring. Five practices down, 10 to go. We have our story from Thursday's workout along with some notes – schedule-change alert! – on the link, so read on.
• Here's the story ...
PULLMAN – It was to be the last play of Thursday's practice.
Washington State University's No. 1 offense faced a fourth-and-5 against the Cougars' No. 1 defense. A play had to be made.
And Travis Long made it. Again.
If there is one player who has met expectations a third of the way through WSU's 15 spring practices, it has to be the sophomore-to-be from Spokane's Gonzaga Prep.
"He got stronger in the offseason, obviously, so that's helped him," WSU coach Paul Wulff said. "He's a smart player. He figures things out quick.
"He used his experience from last year and taken the gains he's made physically the last four months and the combination has helped him take a little bit of a step."
Wulff tempers the praise by citing Long's youth and his need to mature physically, but he's also quick to point out the ceiling for the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Long is pretty high.
"He's nowhere near where he can be," Wulff said. "And he's still got a lot of work in front of him. The sky's the limit for his potential."
To get there, Long spent much of the offseason in the weight room, lifting with a purpose. Get bigger and stronger so he can endure the rigors of the Pac-10 season.
"I looked at the things I did well last season, but I really focused on the things I could improve," he said. "One of those things was my size and strength."
A starter at defensive end throughout his freshman season, Long learned the stress and strain of a college football season dwarfed anything he had faced before.
"You've just got to take it for what it is," he said. "It's faster, people are stronger and bigger, but you learn to cope with it."
He coped with it pretty well, earning All-Pac-10 honorable mention, the only freshman defensive lineman honored by the conference coaches.
Still, in the nine months Long has been on campus, he knows he's changed.
"I feel a lot stronger out there," he said. "Especially my legs. I feel I can plant faster, get out faster and I get better extension because my body's gotten a lot stronger.
"And I put on 10 pounds since last season, so that helps a lot."
Which is just the type of player Wulff and his staff looks for – a talented, athletic, high-motor guy who may have slipped through the cracks.
"When we recruited Travis, I always felt he was one of the best defensive ends on the West Coast, period," Wulff said. "That was our evaluation, and I trust our evaluations on our players. That's definitely a strong suit of our staff and we are going to continue to find players we think are great players regardless of who recruits them."
"I know if I had what I have right now, going into last year," Long said, "I think I would have performed even better than I feel I did my freshman season.
"There is just so much experience you get from playing. You can't get it anywhere else."
Long showed his newly honed skills on the fourth-down play. Off with the snap, he beat the offensive tackle to the inside and got his hands on quarterback Jeff Tuel. Play over. Practice over.
• Now on to some notes. We'll start by getting some mundane items out of the way. The SMU game this fall will be carried on CBS College Sports. It will start at 12:30 PDT. ... In a schedule change, the Cougars will scrimmage Saturday. Practice will start at 9:40 and the scrimmage should commence sometime after 10. It's open to the public at Martin Stadium. Because schools are allowed just three scrimmages in the spring, the Cougars now won't scrimmage on April 17. They'll use that day for a team-building exercise. ... The NCAA Tournament in Spokane made the athletic department about $125,000 according to this story. ... Four women's basketball players – Katie Calderwood, Katie Grad, Lexie Pettersen and Rosie Tarnowki – and two men's players – Nic Koprivica and Abe Lodwick – all were named to Pac-10 Academic team Thursday. Koprivica was named to the first team for the second consecutive season. Lodwick earned second team honors while all four women were honorable mention.
• Now back to the practice. ... I mentioned to Wulff that though his team had dropped some pads – the Cougars were in helmets and shoulder pads – the intensity didn't seem to drop. I wondered what he thought of that. A great deal as it turns out. "It was a great sign," he said. "Probably one of our best practices. They started fast, there were no peaks and valleys, it was great, workman-like practice. It was a great experience for us because, you know, we haven't practiced like that before. The consistency throughout was good." Then he put his head coach's hat on again. "Now, you've got to keep doing that every practice," he said. "We've got to form a habit of that. So that's our next step, our next challenge." ... Maybe the practice was so crisp because Kenny Alfred was visiting. Like any fan, the four-year starting center wanted to come out and see how the Cougars looked. And he wanted to observe first-year line coach Steve Morton in action. He came away impressed by both. ... Middle linebacker Mike Ledgerwood wasn't at practice and Wulff said he was suffering from some headaches. ... Asked if he was satisfied with the progress at this point, Wulff answered, "ya, I am. Not untypical of a lot of springs, we've had a lot of players not practice for classes and those type of things. But we can actually function a little bit because we have more depth. So our practices are a little more productive than they've been in the past because when we do miss guys, like we are right now, we can still go out and execute, get a lot of work done. It's the first we've had that luxury."
• That's it for tonight. We'll be back in the morning. Until then ...