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Cougars spring football camp battles center on centers

TUESDAY, APRIL 5, 2011, 9:29 P.M.

PULLMAN – Before Washington State began spring football, coach Paul Wulff took pains to emphasize that no one, not quarterback Jeff Tuel, not anyone, had their name etched in stone as a starter.

Not after a 2-10 season.

But there are position battles and then there are position battles.

For example, if he’s healthy, Tuel will be the starting quarterback in the opener Sept. 3 vs. Idaho State. Make book on it.

Though who will be snapping him the ball, that’s a real question. And a real battle.

This spring, fifth-year senior Andrew Roxas and 6-foot-3, 280-pound junior college transfer Taylor Meighen have engaged in that struggle, with a rejuvenated Roxas seeming to hold the edge after 10 of WSU’s 15 practices.

“We’ve been rotating those guys in there,” Wulff said Tuesday following the Cougars’ 2-hour, 15-minute full-pad practice. “Both of those guys are going to have to play for us and both of those guys are going to have to continue to improve.”

Though Wulff and offensive line coach Steve Morton aren’t about to designate anyone the starter yet – Morton even went so far as to inject the name of 6-4, 270-pound Matt Goetz, another JC transfer who will be in Pullman this fall as a possible option – the 6-2, 300-pound Roxas has been running with the ones most of the spring.

It’s a job Roxas, who started one game as a freshman at center and eight as a sophomore guard, intends to win.

“That’s the position I want,” Roxas said. “I’m going to compete to win it.”

Roxas missed all of his junior year with a liver infection, an ailment that sapped his strength and contributed to fitness issues that lingered through last season, though he played in most of the Cougars’ games.

“Looking back now, I would probably say (it lasted) a whole year, because I feel great,” Roxas said. “This offseason I got my weight down (and) I was able to get my strength back up.

“Looking back at it, I felt like I was fine, but I really wasn’t, I guess.”

The transformation of Roxas has been striking. A slimmer, quicker player, he’s making blocks he hasn’t been able to imagine since the illness.

Healthy, all he has now is a case of senioritis.

“You want to make this last year count,” Roxas said. “This is my last year at the university I chose. That’s what I dedicated my offseason to, just making everything count.”

“It’s showing in his play, in his ability to respond quicker,” said Morton. “He understands who he is and how he needs to play much clearer than he did 300 days ago.”

“From where Andrew has been, he’s in good shape, he’s moving quicker,” Wulff said, echoing Morton, “and he’s more consistent in his play because his conditioning level is high.”

With Roxas and Meighen, who has impressed Morton with his physical and mental abilities, the offensive line coach is not as worried about who will man the position as he was a year ago.

“Right now our options are certainly clearer than they were a year ago,” Morton said.

Still, don’t etch Roxas’ or Meighen’s name in stone just yet.

“I will continue to work with them and a couple other guys throughout the course of the summer,” Morton said, mentioning Goetz among the options. “We’re far from where we need to be, but I feel very differently about the position today than I did a year ago.”

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