FROM LEWISTON -- The first day of 10 in Lewiston is over for the Washington State football team, which is probably wrapping up meetings right about now back at the Lewis-Clark State campus. We're back in our Pullman home office with some notes and quotes to pass along from the first day of camp.
The general theme from players who were asked about the facilities at Sacajawea Middle School? That it's a lot more space than they expected, and a lot more space than they're used to.
At Rogers Field in Pullman, there are two 70-yard fields (don't quote me on that exact number, but it's in the ballpark) next to each other, which is an adequate amount of space when both of those fields are available. But obviously, construction of the new football operations building has choked off half of that space, which is the whole reason for the Lewiston excursion.
At Sacajawea, there is a regulation-sized football field with goalposts at each end, plus an additional, adjacent field that is considerably larger. The offense will work on the regulation field, which has a track around it and bleachers situated near midfield, while the defense will work mostly in separate groups on the larger field.
"We’re not used to quite this much space," coach Mike Leach said, "so it’s kind of fun to have it. I thought it went good."
"I like everything here," said senior safety Deone Bucannon. "It’s a nice little place. It kind of exceeded my expectations. I didn’t think it was going to be this nice out here."
Walking across the fields back to the parking lot afterward, I could tell there are definitely some little bumps and hills here and there, which is to be expected when you practice at a middle school. And it will be interesting to see how things look after a few days of Division-1 athletes running and cutting and jumping on it. But the fields seemed well taken care of in general, and players seemed to adapt to it OK, despite the fact that the thick, natural grass is a departure from the field-turf of Rogers Field and Martin Stadium.
"It’s not perfect, but we’re at -- what is this, an elementary school? I don’t know," said quarterback Connor Halliday, laughing, adding that he lived the first nine years of his life in Lewiston. "You expect that. It’s fun. It’s good."
Said Bucannon: "It’s definitely different. It’s deep, and you have to make sure you pick up your feet or you’re going to slip getting in and out of your cuts. For the most part, you make your adjustments and it’s not too bad. It’s nicer landing on it, falling on it.
"The biggest problem is probably the same people planting in the same place, so it’s hard to get traction in those areas, but other than that it’s definitely good."
Gabe Marks played high-school ball on a grass field, so he said it was a nice change.
"It’s cooler when it’s really hot, because the turf heats up," Marks said. "I haven’t slipped on it yet."
--- As for the practice itself, Leach said he liked the energy and the competition, which was evident throughout each of the 1-on-1, 7-on-7 and team drills.
You can read most of Leach's comments in this post. He said things went much better today than during the first practice of last year's camp, but emphasized that it's just the beginning and daily improvement will be necessary.
Asked to identify a few standouts, Leach singled out Halliday, Marks, River Cracraft, Destiny Vaeao and Daquawn Brown.
--- The defense got the better of the offense during team session, though the offense "won" the 1-on-1 period thanks to a couple nice catches by Vince Mayle in the end zone, as well as a nice grab by Marks and one by Dominique Williams.
Mayle certainly looks the part of a guy who's going to make an instant impact, though he's obviously learning the plays and probably isn't operating at full speed quite yet. But there were a couple times he caught a pass with a smaller defender draped on him, only to shoo the DB away and turn up field. He also dropped a pass and committed a false start on consecutive plays.
"We’ve just got to polish his routes, make it really sharp," Leach said. "He’s trying to do everything just right, so sometimes he plays slow."
Mayle said he weighs 234 pounds, but that he plans to lose weight during camp and that he played at 225 last season in junior college.
--- Toni Pole broke through to register two "sacks" during 7-on-7 and team session, and Damante Horton might have made the play of the day when he batted a pass away from Gabe Marks and into his own hands for an interception.
--- After spending most of the spring as a backup to Joe Dahl at left guard, John Fullington slid over to right guard on Friday and spent most of the practice with the No. 1 group. Matt Goetz occupied that spot previously. The rest of the starting offensive line looked the same as it did in spring, from left to right: Gunnar Eklund, Dahl, Elliott Bosch, Fullington and Rico Forbes.
--- Sophomore safety Paris Taylor was seen riding an exercise bike during practice.
--- Linebacker Chester Su'a and freshman offensive lineman Matt Meyer were both absent.
Asked why, Leach said: "We’re only talking about the guys that are here, so that will have to remain a mystery. You’re writing an article? Make it a mystery."