This is the first of eight position previews of Washington State University’s 2009 football team.
Today: Running backs. Saturday: Receivers
PULLMAN – Throughout Washington State University’s struggles last season, there was a bright spot at practice, a hope for the future.
It was the blur running with the scout team, California transfer James Montgomery.
Well, the future starts Sept. 5. The opener at Martin Stadium against Stanford. Montgomery’s first game in a Cougars uniform.
“Coming in, I really have a lot of respect for (running backs) Coach (Steve) Broussard and he told me not to waste the year,” the 5-foot-10, 193-pound transfer said of last year’s redshirt year. “I came out every day and practiced so hard it carried over to now. You have to come out every day ready to go.”
Montgomery gained 171 yards on 36 carries as a redshirt freshman in 2007 for the Bears before deciding to get out of Berkeley.
Despite having grown up down the road just outside of Sacramento, Calif., Montgomery headed north for his last three years of eligibility. One was burned last year. Now he rejoins the real wars with two years remaining.
And the Cougars are going to use him.
“As a running back, you’re looking forward to getting the ball,” said Montgomery, who missed the last part of practice Thursday after tweaking his right knee in a drill. “If it’s going to be the main emphasis of offense, that’s what you wish for, that’s any running back’s dream.”
But, with the depth the Cougars have developed, living the dream isn’t guaranteed for Montgomery.
“Right now, if you were to ask me today, I would say it’s a tossup between James and (Dwight) Tardy,” Broussard said this week. “Right now, because of the mental part of the game. Logwone (Mitz) is still growing. He’ll get better. But right now it’s a coin flip.”
It’s that type of battle that makes head coach Paul Wulff smile.
“We are happy,” with what’s going on, Wulff said. “We still have some healthy competition going on there.”
What is going on is four veterans are fighting for playing time and carries. And all have caught Wulff’s eye.
“James Montgomery has clearly showed some obvious things that can help our football team,” he said. “Of course, Dwight (Tardy) can as well. Logwone has gotten better off his rookie year and Marcus (Richmond) has done some good things.”
Tardy, a fifth-year senior, is the senior member of the crew, having started 26 games and racking up 1,824 yards in his three years. His sophomore year was cut short by a torn ACL suffered at the end of a 214-yard, 37-carry effort against UCLA.
Last year it was obvious Tardy was still recovering as he rushed for a career-low 481 yards, averaging less than 4 yards a carry after entering the season with nearly a 5-yard average.
“He’s a veteran, he understands the game,” Broussard said. “He understands what it takes to mentally get ready for the game.”
Mitz, a redshirt sophomore, electrified the Martin Stadium crowd last season with a 57-yard scoring run in the Apple Cup. He finished the year with 441 yards on 90 carries, a 4.9 average.
“He has power, the ability to run through tackles and has good feet,” Broussard said of the 6-1, 229-back whose father, Alonzo, was an NFL defensive end.
Richmond is the wild card, a versatile back who played fullback, tailback and receiver last season.
Last year’s wild card, senior Chantz Staden, will redshirt while rehabilitating a knee injury suffered against Arizona State. There are also three freshmen ticketed to redshirt, including 5-8, 197-pound Carl Winston, 5-11, 206-pound Arthur Burns and 5-6, 160-pound burner Leon Brooks, who may be WSU’s kickoff returner of the future.
But now is all Broussard’s worried about. He has to make a decision on who will play.
“We probably won’t know who’s going to be the guy until that last week,” Broussard said. “I don’t like to play four backs. I like to play two. If you run the ball 35 times, one guy may have 20, the other guy 15. Or one may have 25, one may have 10.
“I don’t like to rotate four guys because you never get in a rhythm.”