LEWISTON – For those keeping score, behold – just three days into Washington State’s preseason camp, two Cougar quarterbacks have already endorsed the idea of playing time for a freshman receiver.
Words only glowing have been spoken thus far of rookie receiver River Cracraft, a 6-foot, 198-pound freshman from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., who has done nothing the past three days but make positive impressions upon teammates and coach Mike Leach.
“I’d say River’s going to be in a place to battle for a starting position,” quarterback Connor Halliday said Friday.
Austin Apodaca, a redshirt freshman quarterback, noticed Cracraft’s polish on Day 1.
“The first day he came out here, he might have run some of the best routes I’ve seen, especially for a freshman,” Apodaca said before detailing how Cracraft went over one of WSU’s best cornerbacks to win a jump ball. “We’ve been really impressed with him, and me and Connor think he can play this year. He’s just got to keep working and get better.”
Cracraft is built sturdily for a player his age, and Leach said he can already tell his skills are more polished than most newcomers.
The freshman said he played more inside than outside as a receiver in high school, and he fits in as an inside receiver – at the “Y” position, along with Bobby Ratliff and Robert Lewis – in Leach’s offense, too.
His decision to come to WSU, he said, was motivated by the desire to play for an underdog, a program that, he hopes, is an up-and-comer in the Pac-12.
“I like the offense,” said Cracraft, soft-spoken during his first interview, “but I came up here and it was mostly the team and the teammates that accepted me and brought me in. That was before I even committed. That was really helpful to me.”
“He’s ahead of most freshmen,” Leach said. “He’s got a little more than that. Tries incredibly hard, has really good skills. Like anybody that’s really competitive, (he’s) impatient at times. His best plays are polished, high-effort plays, and his bad plays right now are ones (that are) frantic where he tries too hard.”
Even his name sounds smooth, and there is meaning behind it: Cracraft’s grandfather is from Scotland, where he lived near the River Clyde. And so River Clyde Cracraft (pronounced CRAY-craft) passes along that bit of heritage with every roster that prints his name, and to every observer – and there have been several – who notes just how easily that name rolls off the tongue.
It will be one to keep in mind as WSU progresses toward its Aug. 31 opener at Auburn. Those who earn playing time at receiver on will have beaten experienced contenders, as the roster is littered more with viable pass-catchers than any other position.
“New guys come in ready to take spots,” said Ratliff, a fourth-year junior and the most seasoned of WSU’s inside receivers. “That’s just the culture around here. You don’t have a job until that Saturday. After that Saturday, you have to keep your job for the next Saturday. It’s always a competition, which keeps us ready. Nobody’s comfortable with their position.”
That’s partially because Leach has again introduced newcomers to the group who have a chance to earn immediate playing time. In addition to Cracraft, Lewis is a true freshman who already has 15 spring practices under his belt, and junior-college transfer Vince Mayle, a 6-foot-3, 234-pound senior, is considered a threat to compete for a starting spot at outside receiver.
And if they earn their keep, they will play. That was proven last year when Gabe Marks, now a sophomore, emerged as one of the team’s top playmakers during camp and wound up in the starting lineup for the season opener.
This year’s crop of new guys may have the chops necessary for similar ascension.
“If anything, they’re ahead of the installments that we have already,” Ratliff said. “A lot of us already know the offense, and the new guys learned it really, really quick.”