PULLMAN – Their opener is still a couple weeks away, but the Washington State Cougars have one small request.
“We’ve been battling against each other for 16 practices now,” senior defensive end Kevin Kooyman said. “We just want to go against somebody else.”
Nothing may illustrate that better than a quick temper flare late at practice Friday.
Center Zack Williams and defensive tackle Brandon Rankin – roommates in an off-campus apartment – got into a brouhaha that escalated into more than your usual practice scuffle.
The two tangled in a scrimmage drill, the upshot of which was Williams’ helmet came off, the guard threw it at Rankin, who grabbed it and hit Williams with it in the shoulder pad.
“Those things happen,” said coach Paul Wulff, who helped separate the pair. “Guys are competing and scrapping and sometimes guys’ hands get in places they shouldn’t be and it makes somebody angry. That’s just part of it.”
The two, obviously agitated, sat out a few plays. After practice, Wulff brought up the incident in his talk with the team.
“It has to be done on this football field,” Wulff reiterated later.
It will be, Kooyman pledged, saying such things don’t carry over. Especially not down the road.
“We’re not going to do that in a game, no worries about that,” Kooyman said.
A game. That is something Kooyman feels can’t get here quickly enough.
“At the beginning of camp, we were very, very strong and I feel like these last couple days we’ve been letting off a little bit,” said Kooyman, who still had the pedal down Friday, coming up with at least two sacks in team drills. “Still, that first week was solid for us and well beyond our expectations.”
Kooyman, speaking for the defense, said there has been a trust built in the first 16 practices.
“Last year, we were trying to do too much, trying to do other people’s responsibilities,” he said. “This year, it’s not like that. There isn’t any of that assignment-fighting, I guess you could call it.”
He admits, however, there are still improvements needed. Pressed to name one aspect that has to be cleaned up soon, Kooyman took awhile.
“I feel like we need to start a little bit faster every day,” he said.
And stay healthy.
Though Wulff is happy with the Cougars’ injury situation, saying “We don’t have as many guys sitting out and missing practice because we’re in better shape and a little stronger.” WSU has been hit recently by two season-ending ones.
On Aug. 14, reserve defensive end Jordan Pu’u Robinson tore his ACL in a scrimmage. This week tight end Aaron Dunn broke his right wrist. They’ll both have surgery and miss the season.
“It was kind of a freak thing,” Wulff said of Dunn’s injury. “He was blocking somebody, put his hand in there and somehow (his wrist) popped.”
The freshman from Mead High, who watched practice with his casted arm encased in a foam pad, is scheduled for surgery next week and will redshirt.
“It made itself,” Wulff said of the redshirt decision. “It’s not the way you want it to be, but if it’s going to ever happen, obviously it’s better now than in a year where he’s right in the mix playing.”
The Cougars have scheduled a scrimmage for this morning at 8:30, then follow that up with an appearance at the National Lentil Festival downtown before returning to campus for an afternoon practice.