LOS ANGELES – Kenny Alfred had some time on his hands.
Washington State University’s center wasn’t able to practice last spring, a victim of a sore right hip that demanded surgery. So the senior-to-be and three-year starter stood off to the side, watching his fellow offensive linemates sweat through workouts.
And one day it hit him.
“Something frustrated me – I honestly couldn’t tell you what – and I was really inspired by seeing how guys were playing through the spring,” Alfred said Thursday. “Obviously, I couldn’t be on the field and it was burning in my gut and I needed something to rope myself back in and also to try to unify guys going into the summer.”
So Alfred came up with an acronym for the offensive line: VITL.
He pronounces it vital, and the mantra, as Alfred terms it, stands for vicious, intense, tenacious and low, all things the offensive line wants to be in the upcoming year.
“It’s something simple we can echo to each other,” said Alfred, WSU’s representative at the Pac-10 Conference’s annual football media day, held at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel near the Los Angeles International airport. “It’s just a simple word that holds a lot of weight.”
Alfred and his fellow offensive linemen know they didn’t pull their weight during last year’s 2-11 season and they feel they’ll be a vital part of any turnaround this season, which opens Sept. 5 with a home conference game vs. Stanford.
“We didn’t produce as well last year as we would have like to,” Alfred said while talking in front of the assembled media.
Later, over lunch, he expounded on the why behind that statement.
“There were quite a few things,” he said. “We had a bit of a lack of communication, we didn’t really know how to finish … (and) we struggled with pad height, staying low all the time. At the same time, we struggled with injuries. That’s the bottom line.”
The injuries – at least four potential starters were either hampered by or lost time to injuries – affected the communication and limited growth, Alfred said.
“An offensive line is supposed to be five guys who are tight knit, that understand each other and can play as one,” Alfred said. “You have guys switching in and out every week, getting injured here and moving around there, it makes it incredibly difficult.”
Though some linemen, including 2008 starters Micah Hannam (shoulder), Brian Danaher (shoulder) and Alfred, underwent postseason surgery that limited their ability to lift weights or drill over the summer, Alfred feels the group made strides.
“I’ve been really impressed with the speed the guys have been able to come back,” Alfred said.
The offensive line could be one of the team’s strengths when practices start Aug. 9, according to WSU coach Paul Wulff.
“There’s potential to do really good things,” said Wulff, who will miss the first three days of practice because of an NCAA sanction for rules violations that occurred while he was at Eastern Washington University. “But they’ve got to do good things.”
That, according to Wulff and Alfred, is vital.
“We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to get this offensive line seasoned and ready to go,” Wulff said. “There are no short cuts. We have to push them hard in fall camp so they are ready to go that first game.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.