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WSU gets a little help from unlikely sources


COUGARS

Spring practice No. 3 was held in sometimes driving, sometimes light rain Monday, with an occasional sun break thrown in to tantalize those of us watching – and freezing. We have some notes for you at the end of this post, but before you get there, you can read the unedited version of our story for tomorrow's S-R. It's about three former players who are helping out as student assistants, running around the practice field helping out in any way they can. Read on.
••••••••••

• Here's our story ...

PULLMAN – None of them wanted football to end.

But for Eric Block, Brian Danaher and Kevin Freitag, it did. Prematurely.

All three Washington State University players found out in the past six months that football, their reason for being in Pullman, was over due to injury or illness.

But all three didn't let the inability to play a game they love get them down. For too long, anyway. All three have found another outlet for their passion. All three are serving as student assistants, helping impart their football knowledge and experience to guys they called teammates just weeks ago.

"It's definitely good to still be involved," said Block, who would have been a junior. "I still love football, still want to be a part of it, be a part of this team. I still have a lot of teammates and friends (here)."

Block's football career ended with a bang – his last play of any consequence came against Stanford last season, when his explosive hit on Chris Owusu knocked the receiver from the game but also gave the safety a concussion – but it ended because of ulcerative colitis, a large intestine disease exasperated by the stress of college football.

"My health is good," Block said. "I've been taking care of myself, staying consistent with taking care of everything. I have a lot more time I can put in taking care of my health."

Now he uses his practice time helping on the defensive side of the ball, "whatever they need me to do," he said. That includes playing quarterback – he played the position at Bellevue High – for the scout team and running drills. He just no longer wears the uniform.

"It's different than playing," he said. "You don't have the same intensity, the same drive, but it's still a good way to be involved."

When Danaher, an offensive lineman from Colfax High who started a handful of games in his Cougar career, went in for what he thought was a normal post-concussion discussion with a doctor in late February, he was looking forward to his senior year. Yes, he knew he had been prone to concussions, but he had taken extra tests with an eye on getting cleared to play.

"The (doctors) sat me down and said 'Brian, we went over your results, we talked with the Seahawks head trainer and you can't play football anymore,' " Danaher said. "I didn't even see it coming. It was pretty tough. It wasn't much of my decision."

But he understands.

"I don't want any problems with how I conduct my life," Danaher said.

So he's out with the offensive linemen each day, holding charts, talking with former teammates, and helping new line coach Steve Morton. So why take the time?

"To stay involved," Danaher answered. "These are my friends, my best friends, for the last four years. For one day for everything to stop was very hard for me."

Freitag's college career really never got started. The summer following his senior year at Kennedy High, the offensive lineman was injured in an all-star game. A series of injuries followed throughout the next three years, with last season lost to a major toe injury. It was bad enough he had to hang up his cleats.

"I definitely miss it," he said. "The first two months after I was done done, retired, were pretty hard. I was pretty down, but (coach Paul) Wulff asked me if I was interested in this, and it's been huge for me."

Freitag wants to be a college coach some day, so the opportunity was one he's embraced.

"It keeps me involved," he said, "and, hopefully, through coaching, it will help me make up for not playing."

•••

• Now on to some notes ... The Cougars were in pads today, and with pads comes hitting. One of their favorite drills is Oklahoma – Bud Wilkinson, legendary Oklahoma coach, is credited with inventing it – in which one offensive blocker squares off with one defender between pads. The ball is handed off to a running back, who has to get through the pads and by the defender. It's a mano-a-mano drill, with pad level the key. ... Early on, during scrimmaging, the defense was on its heels, with the offense moving the ball with such ease that the defense got chewed after the session. The next time they got together, with a situational scrimmage based on third down, the defense got revenge, slicing through the offensive line for a handful – or more – of sacks. But the offense got the last laugh in the last team session, driving the length of the field and scoring on Leon Brooks' 4-yard run. ... "There were a lot of good things," coach Paul Wulff said, "and there were some things that are real typical of a first day out. It's pretty clear we are ahead of where we've been at this point. That's good, but we've got a lot of work to do." ... The offense didn't have usual starting guard Zack Williams, who sprained his left shoulder on the day's first scrimmage play. He's day-to-day. ... With Williams out, Steven Ayers played often at left guard and Wade Jacobson took almost all the snaps at left tackle. Ayers also took some snaps today at center, though starter Andrew Roxas was back. ... During the offense's end-of-practice scoring drive, running back Chantz Staden gathered in a short pass, made a move the caused three defenders to collide without touching him. The move was reminiscent of Staden from two years ago, before a major knee injury caused him to miss all of last year. "He's had a good year-and-a-half now, post surgery, so he should be 100 percent," Wulff said. "He'll give us toughness and a great spark in a lot of different areas."

•••••

• 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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