For Zackary Johnson, the only thing tougher than walking on at Washington State was walking away.
Johnson – last seen starting on the offensive line in the WSU spring game at Albi Stadium – had spent two years “working my way up from fourth string” to the two-deep roster, and expected to be in the mix this fall.
However, the Cougars recruited seven offensive linemen this year under new coach Mike Leach. Johnson says he was informed by WSU coaches this spring “that I would have to beat them out instead of them beating me out.
“And I wasn’t too happy about that.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 268-pound redshirt sophomore-to-be from Stanwood, Wash., didn’t appear in any Cougar games his first two years, seeing action only on the scout team. He was recruited as a linebacker in 2010 by former coach Paul Wulff, then moved to the offensive line as a true freshman.
Now he’s enrolled at Eastern Washington University, working out in the Eagles’ voluntary summer conditioning program, and hoping to play when the Eagles visit Martin Stadium on Sept. 8 – just four months after he played in the WSU spring game.
The irony is inescapable.
“I expect to get a little heckling,” he said Monday in the EWU weight room after a workout.
It wasn’t an easy decision, Johnson said, noting his close ties to the WSU players and coaches, who he says were “a bit upset” with his decision.
“They’re all good coaches and all good guys,” Johnson said. “But you only have so many years to play football in your life.”
Washington State coaches are on vacation and were unavailable for comment.
Johnson, who can play guard or center, looked at his options, and he didn’t have to look far. Eastern is 18 months removed from a national Football Championship Subdivision title, has a strong computer sciences department, and gives him three more years of playing time.
“It’s hard to ignore that they won a national championship,” Johnson said.
After consulting with family and friends, he talked with Wulff, who recommended Eastern. Wulff was the coach at Eastern from 2000 to 2007 before taking over at WSU.
Johnson, who wants to bulk up to 285 pounds, said he feels he’s fitting in already in Cheney, and said the likes the camaraderie on the Eastern Washington team.
Johnson played both center and guard on the scout teams at Washington State, twice winning Scout Player of the Week honors.
At Stanwood, located north of Everett, he was an All-Wesco first-team selection at linebacker his junior and seniors.