PULLMAN – After nearly a week off since the Apple Cup, the Washington State football team returned to practice on Thursday.
While the players and coaches had yet to train in the layer of snow that has recently blanketed Pullman, they have not been idle.
The Cougars have hit the books this week, and their coaches have hit the recruiting trail.
With the school’s fall semester coming to a close, the athletes are nearing the end of “dead week,” the week before finals begin when students cram in as much studying as possible prior to their exams.
“We talked about it when we met with them on Saturday – take care of your academics,” WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske said. “This is the time, ‘dead week.’ Do your extra credit if you can, take care of your business and just don’t have any surprises when your grades come out.”
The Cougars are allowed to practice this week because their 6-6 record makes them eligible to play in a bowl game. They can only continue to practice if they receive a bid to play in one.
While coach Mike Leach and Breske returned to Pullman to oversee the practice, the majority of WSU’s assistants were still on the road recruiting. If the Cougars are invited to a bowl, the coaches will have to balance bowl preparation with putting the finishing touches on the recruiting class of 2014, which will sign letters of intent on Feb. 5.
Leach was out recruiting as well, returning to campus on Wednesday. He said that he noticed increased enthusiasm in among prospective players because of WSU’s late-season wins over Arizona and Utah and a competitive Apple Cup.
“There’s no question,” Leach said. “Nobody thought we were going to go to a bowl, and (WSU) hasn’t gone for 10 years and the second year here, we are,” Leach said. “So we’ll build up from there.”
Breske said the reception in Eastern Washington indicates a lot of excitement surrounding the program.
“The reception has been real good, especially for me in the Tri-Cities and Yakima area, (which) are strong Coug country,” Breske said. “Especially when you go into schools, there are a lot of Cougs. It’s been really good and they’ve been really positive about Coach Leach and everything that’s been going on here.”
Like many programs, the Cougars see their bowl practices as a way to get a leg up in the future as much as prepare for their next challenge.
Not only is WSU practicing to stay sharp for a potential bowl game, it is using the extra practice time to get younger players additional reps heading into next season.
Veteran players practiced for 30 minutes Thursday before heading to the weight room.
The rest of the two-plus hours practice was dedicated solely to the younger players.
“This is an advantage,” Breske said. “There are teams that don’t get this, and you take advantage of that, and these guys have to understand that.”
WSU will take today off before practicing over the weekend. In all likelihood, the team will find out Sunday if, where and when they will be playing in a bowl game.
“Historically, we’re at practice when that happens,” Leach said. “But there is no telling when they do that. They get together in little boardrooms and then somebody calls.”