PULLMAN – The first day of football practice always has a fresh feel to it.
Most of the time it revolves around the new players, the 25-or-so wide-eyed rookies getting their first taste of college football.
And that element was there in abundance Sunday afternoon at Washington State, as the Cougars began the 2011 campaign with a 2-hour-15-minute practice in helmets, jerseys and shorts.
Yet there was more.
The Cougars wore new uniforms, featuring the school’s new lettering and topped with gray helmets. Two new, yet veteran, assistant coaches made their fall debut.
Heck, even the west end of Martin Stadium next door was getting a new look, with the old bleachers in the process of being torn down to be replaced this season with a hospitality area and down the road with a football-only building.
But possibly the biggest change came late in practice, held in front of a smattering of spectators on a sunny, 82-degree day.
Instead of team drills going on only on the westernmost of the two practice fields, as has been the case in the past, the ones faced the ones and the twos matched up with the twos simultaneously on both fields.
“We’ve never been able to do that before,” said coach Paul Wulff, beginning his fourth season at WSU, crediting improved depth for the new format.
On one field a bulked-up Jeff Tuel – the junior quarterback weighed in at 223 pounds Saturday, about 10 more than last season – found Marquess Wilson deep down the middle for a long gain, on the other true freshman defensive tackle David Davis broke through to break up a running play.
“It allows the younger players to get more reps than they normally would,” Wulff said of the change, “and that’s going to help us find out what younger players maybe can contribute. We can film everything, so we can evaluate it and teach them off that so they can grow quicker.”
The different vibe is apparent to those players who have been in Pullman for a while, said fifth-year senior running back Logwone Mitz.
“I feel it,” Mitz said. “We felt it last year. There were a couple games we didn’t play very good at all, but there were more games than that where we competed.
“That leads into this year, knowing we left off on that note. … We ran things right today, pretty smoothly. It was a great first practice.”
Such sharpness leads to increased expectation.
“It’s fun, it’s exciting,” said Mitz, who shared most of time with the No. 1 offense with redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin. “To be honest, I haven’t been excited about being a part of a team like this in a while. I’m ready to go.”
Some of that excitement comes from execution, said fifth-year senior center Andrew Roxas, who took nearly ever snap with the starting offense. And some of it comes from attitude.
“The chemistry we have is the best it’s been,” he said after the physically draining practice left him dealing with leg cramps. “That leads to better execution because we know each other better and we communicate better.”
There were some familiar elements as well, with fifth-year senior Marshall Lobbestael continuing his role as Tuel’s backup. But even then, there was something new.
Lobbestael also took turns filling the role of blocker for new punter Dan Wagner, his yellow non-contact jersey looking somewhat out of place in the middle of Wagner’s personal protectors.
“He wants to help anyway he can and there may be a role for him on that,” Wulff said.
But it was obvious after the tough times of the past three years; the only new thing the players really want is success.
“That’s what these coaches are trying to instill in us, mental toughness and working through adversity,” said Roxas, who epitomizes that, having dealt with health issues each seasons since his freshman year. “Basically, just keep attacking everything that comes at you.”