PULLMAN – It seems simple enough.
A freshman joins a college football team. Either he’s physically ready to play, so he does. Or he’s not ready, so he redshirts, sitting out a season without any loss of eligibility.
It seems simple. But it isn’t.
There are more variables at play, everything from the player’s wishes, the depth at the position, academics, mental acuity, recruiting, maturity.
It all goes into the equation for each player and a decision is made.
Washington State is no different. And now is about the time decisions are made on the freshman class.
“Our plan right now is to keep pushing them like they’re going to play,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “We’ll have more of a set idea either Friday or Saturday.”
Washington State has 33 true freshmen in camp, most on scholarships but some walk-ons. Ask each one and the odds are they would all want to play.
The Cougars have made no final decisions, Wulff said, but are leaning heavily toward playing a handful of scholarship freshmen, including linebackers Chester Sua and Daryl Monroe, receivers Henry Eaddy and Isiah Myers, running back Marcus Mason and possibly a couple of walk-ons who have shown special teams acumen, linebacker Cyrus Coen and safety Jordan Simone. Others might still show they are ready to play or injuries might open a door.
“Again, we don’t know, but so far they look promising,” Wulff said of the group.
If it seems like a lot, it isn’t, at least for the Cougars of the last three years.
Whether it is high-profile players such as quarterback Jeff Tuel or defensive end Travis Long, or reserves thrust into the breach, such as offensive lineman Alex Reitnouer, WSU has had to rely on true freshmen playing key roles too often since Wulff took over.
Not this season.
“This is the first year we’ve been able to truly redshirt the core of the class,” Wulff said.
The redshirt decision is a tough one, as seemingly every freshman comes in thinking he’ll play right away.
“I just want to help the team out wherever I can,” said Mason, whose performance in preseason camp has made it tough for WSU to redshirt him. “If they want me to play, then I’ll play. If they want me to redshirt, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Though Washington State tells all recruits there is a chance they’ll redshirt as freshmen, according to recruiting coordinator Rich Rasmussen, they are also promised an opportunity to compete.
“You tell them it’s up to them whether they are going to redshirt or not,” Rasmussen said. “The thing we try to stress to guys is you’re going to play as soon as you are mentally and physically ready to play.
“For some that occurs earlier than others.”
Yet players get to campus and find others at their position are bigger, stronger, faster. They may have trouble grasping the concepts.
Or they get into the classroom and find the workload daunting.
Yes, academics play a role in the decision.
“It does sometimes,” Wulff said. “I don’t know how often, but it is something we do look at. That’s part of it without question.”
In a perverse way, a player’s academic shortcomings may also make him a candidate not to redshirt. If there’s a chance he may only be eligible for a year, he might as well spend the year on the field.
“There is no question that’s a thought that coaches think, if somebody is coming in and is a really marginal student,” Wulff said. “We feel confident here at Washington State that we have a great academic support system.
“All our players are tested so we have a good feel of where they are at and we feel confident that they’re going to do well academically.”
In the end, the decision is made with the player’s input.
“We always talk to the individual first about what our thoughts are and where they are at,” Wulff said.
But if Mason is any indication, the choice is an easy one. Asked how badly he wanted to play this year, the freshman from Etiwanda, Calif., smiled and said one word: “Bad.”