PULLMAN – It happens every fall. All over America, college athletic programs honor their seniors, introducing them and their families before the final home game, thanking them for their service.
Saturday’s the day in Martin Stadium for 14 Washington State football players. The small group will take the field before the Cougars’ crucial Pac-12 contest with Utah – WSU must win its final two games to earn bowl eligibility – and accept the applause from the Cougar faithful.
The group ranges from players who are on the field for every down, like left tackle David Gonzales, to those who have spent most of their Pullman time on the scout team, like defensive backs Trase Pickering and Anthony Martinez.
The group includes five junior college transfers who spent limited time on the Palouse and five fifth-year seniors, who began their career under former coach Bill Doba.
“They’ve worked really hard,” coach Paul Wulff said of all the seniors. “They’ve laid a great foundation of work ethic and commitment for all the young players. Some of these guys have been through a lot in their career here.
“The definitely have pushed this in a great direction and I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
The group also includes three players who fit the mold of the type of player Wulff says he works hard to attract to WSU.
The under-the-radar guy
Alex Hoffman-Ellis played one year of high school football, another at the JC level in Southern California.
Wulff and his staff took a chance with the 6-foot-1, 231-pound linebacker because he had speed, more than any of the more experienced guys at his position WSU was recruiting.
It took a couple years, but Hoffman-Ellis played his way into the lineup and this season has become the Cougars’ best defender, leading WSU with 72 tackles, including 54 unassisted ones.
“Alex is great in so many ways,” Wulff said this week. “He’s got all the physical traits you would like and has developed into a leader. He didn’t come in as a leader, but he watched and learned and listened and grew.
“To see where he is today compared to what he was when he showed up here three years ago, it’s amazing how far that young man’s come. He’s a quality story.”
The term is so overused by the NCAA, it is almost a parody of itself. But Jared Karstetter is a good example of whom it should be applied.
Karstetter, a 6-4, 210-pound wide receiver from Ferris High in Spokane, has stood out on the field since he stepped on campus four years ago. With 45 catches this season, he’s moved up to fourth on the WSU all-time list with 151. He also has 17 touchdown receptions, tied with Brandon Gibson for sixth on that list.
But he’s an All-American in the classroom, being named one of 16 finalists for the National Football Foundation’s Campbell Trophy, awarded to the country’s top scholar-athlete. He was also named to the Pac-12’s All-Academic first-team this week, his 3.61 grade point average in zoology – Karstetter is headed to dental school – earning him that award for the second consecutive year.
“He’s a great competitor,” Wulff said. “He’s a winner in everything he does. He sets the tone for all those young receivers and everyone on this football team.
“He’s just so consistent. And we couldn’t have asked for anyone stronger, mentally, to help grow our program.”
The selfless player
No one has probably taken over as the starting quarterback from more different players – and then replaced by someone else – than Marshall Lobbestael in his time at WSU.
Through it all, the fifth-year senior from Oak Harbor, Wash., has pledged his support – and showed it during games – to the players who have replaced him.
“Marshall is the ultimate team player,” Wulff said. “A positive guy with a lot of passion for the game. Takes a lot of pride in his friends and the friendships he has.”
Earlier this season Lobbestael stepped in for an injured Jeff Tuel and threw for 2,240 yards, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes and tossing 16 touchdowns. But the Cougar offense fell stagnant against California two weeks ago and redshirt freshman Connor Halliday took over, throwing for 494 yards against Arizona State.
The first guy to great Halliday after every touchdown throw last Saturday? Marshall Lobbestael.
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