PULLMAN – The biggest adjustment for Ivan McLennan at Washington State so far doesn’t necessarily involve X’s and O’s, though the junior-college transfer has a ways to go before he can fully grasp the buck linebacker position.
Before he even stepped on the practice field, McLennan had to get used to something much more routine: the food. Namely, the fact that there’s a heck of a lot more of it around a Division-1 college football program than there was back home in Hawthorne, Calif.
And the Cougars coaching staff wants him to eat a heck of a lot more of it, too, telling him, as defensive coordinator Mike Breske said, “You can go back for seconds, Ivan.”
That mantra has helped McLennan go from 216 pounds in January to 243 now – on a 6-foot-4 frame – and it shows. His thick, athletic build stands out as a pleasant addition to WSU’s defense this spring, and McLennan says the extra weight hasn’t slowed him any.
He said the goal is to play at 250 pounds once the season starts, which would be 34 pounds more than the weight at which he entered WSU in January. That’s how heavy he would have preferred to be during his two seasons at El Camino Junior College, he said, but because his mother works long hours as a nurse, home-cooked meals for he and his three siblings weren’t always available.
“Sometimes I had to eat a sandwich for dinner or cup of noodles or something,” McLennan said.
“They want me to eat – eat my breakfast, eat my lunch, eat my dinner, and if I can, even eat after my dinner,” he said.
That’s in addition to a rigorous weight-lifting program, something McLennan said he never put much effort toward before.
“I was always the dude that wanted to go on the field and do, like, footwork drills or coverage drills or stuff like that,” McLennan said. “When I came to a D-1 program, to see how serious they take the weight room and how serious they take conditioning, it was eye-opening for me.”
The junior linebacker is already seeing plenty of reps during practice, though he was slotted as the team’s No. 3 buck linebacker when the practices began.
Logan Mayes figured to be next in line to replace departed senior Travis Long at the position. But Mayes is out for the time being with a leg injury – he’s been on crutches recently – so McLennan and sophomore Kache Palacio have been competing for repetitions instead.
“Now he’s just getting comfortable with what we’re doing on defense,” Breske said. “Again, big learning curve. But he’s (an) explosive, fast-twitch kid, and each day he’s getting better.”
There will be rookie mistakes to eliminate, but McLennan’s potential has already shown. He blew past left tackle Gunnar Eklund on a pass rush during Tuesday’s practice to force a hurried throw by the quarterback, and leveled running back Teondray Caldwell a few plays later with the biggest hit of the day.
“This is my first time ever playing like a D-end, outside-linebacker-type position, but it’s real fun,” said McLennan, who played mostly WIL linebacker at El Camino.
“Coach (Paul) Volero’s an excellent coach. He’s teaching me every day and I’m getting better and better.”
It was his connection with Volero, Breske, coach Mike Leach and receivers coach Dennis Simmons – one of his main recruiting contacts – that kept McLennan committed to WSU.
Miami came calling with a scholarship offer a week before signing day, McLennan said, and it was hard to say no to the Hurricanes, a team he’d grown up admiring from a distance.
But WSU’s coaches had supported him throughout a disappointing junior college season, and his mom liked them, too.
“At the end of the day,” McLennan said, “I just came where they showed me the most love.”
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