PULLMAN – When Sebastian LaRue transferred to Washington State from Texas A&M it was immediately assumed that the former highly-coveted receiver recruit would provide stiff competition for WSU’s deep receiving corps.
LaRue, who claimed scholarship offers from schools such as Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC coming out of high school is competing with the Cougars’ pass-catchers on the field, but as an opponent rather than a rival.
He is the newest member of WSU’s defensive backfield, making the switch to cornerback last Saturday.
“It was something I played in high school. I initially wanted to play it coming into college and it was something I wanted to see if I could be successful at,” LaRue said. “Not taking anything away from receiver or anything like that – it’s not like I was forcibly moved – I went to (the coaches) and asked them for the opportunity to try it out and they gave me the opportunity.”
ESPN.com ranked LaRue the No. 9 receiving prospect in the country coming out of high school. Still, he redshirted his freshman season at TAMU before enrolling at WSU this semester.
He is subject to NCAA transfer rules that require him to sit out his first season. However, WSU has filed a hardship appeal asking that he be allowed to play in the upcoming season.
Defensive coordinator Mike Breske said that LaRue will remain at cornerback, at least for the Cougars’ final six spring practices. The move will also provide balance to a team that entered spring with 22 wide receivers on the roster compared to eight cornerbacks, five of whom are freshman.
“Obviously he’s got to learn the position now and that type of deal but he brings a lot to the plate and as soon as he develops his defensive mind I’m excited to see what he can do,” Breske said. “We’ve got some time with him to get him going and spring is really the time to work on that.”
The Cougars are developing a penchant for taking offensive players and using their knowledge of passing patterns and blocking schemes to turn them into shrewd defenders, much like NFL All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman of the Seahawks, who began his Stanford career as a receiver.
Last year Rahmel Dockery left the team after making the switch from receiver to cornerback. Isaac Dotson was recruited to WSU to play quarterback. He’ll likely be the Cougars’ starting strong safety as a sophomore.
“I’ve had quarterbacks, I’ve had wide receivers, and I’ve had running backs,” Breske said. “If your mindset is right for the dark side that’s where the best players are, generally, they’re on offense in high school. And if they want to make that commitment they’re fine defensive players.”
Quickness and an ability to change directions in a hurry were LaRue’s strengths as a receiver and those skills appeared to translate defensively on Tuesday.
While Breske is bringing LaRue along slowly, he had him take repetitions in a 1-on-1 drill between the receivers and defensive backs and the former Aggie appeared to hold his own, smothering receiver Willie Roach on one rep and breaking up a pass to Daniel Lilienthal on another.
But LaRue has not played defense since high school and most colleges, including WSU, recruited him exclusively as a receiver. As he starts facing off against WSU’s better receivers and eventually Pac-12 opponents, there are bound to be some learning experiences and teachable moments.
“It’s definitely been a challenge these first couple days just switching over to going backwards instead of forwards and things like that,” he said. “But we’re all competing out here and getting each other better.”
On Friday redshirt freshman Emmitt Su’a-Kalio pled guilty to fourth-degree assault in Whitman County Superior Court. The 18-year-old was arrested in October following an altercation with a teammate whose jaw was broken after Su’a-Kalio punched him.
Su’a-Kalio’s sentence includes 240 hours of community service and a $1,450 fine, including $200 to pay for a blender the victim purchased while his jaw was wired shut.
When asked if the defensive lineman would face additional punishment from the team coach Mike Leach said, “We’ll wait for all that to unfold. That whole thing happened a long time ago and we’ve already addressed that.”