PULLMAN – Washington State football coach Mike Leach was often interrupted during a teleconference with members of the media to talk about the team’s upcoming season on Thursday.
He was not interrupted by the shouts and questions from zealous reporters, mind you, but by the buzzing and whirring of drills and other electrical equipment that serve as a constant reminder that the program’s facilities upgrades and improvements are never really done.
A year ago the constant construction chased the Cougars away to Lewiston for 10 days of fall camp. The team liked it so much that WSU is heading back this year for even longer, practicing at Lewiston’s Sacajawea Middle School Aug. 2-13 before returning to Pullman.
The coach told reporters that the time away from campus allows the players to focus on football and team-building.
“Rather than being scattered around, everybody is closer together. Our dorm complex, everyone is packed in side-by-side. Everybody buses together wherever they need to go,” Leach said. “That campus is not active at that time, so pretty much we have the place to ourselves for the most part. It’s been really good for us. A little bit old school would be the yellow buses and sort of a reference of how everybody started playing and coaching football.”
In order to bring the players closer together the coaches assign roommates, with an eye toward bringing opposites together. Offensive players room with defensive players, starters with backups, veterans with rookies, and so on and so forth.
The coaches want the players to spend time with the teammates that they won’t often see in practice, emphasizing that the team is bigger than the position units that form the players’ immediate circles.
“It’s funny,” Leach said. “Because after camp and stuff, maybe months later, you’ll see two guys hanging out where you’re thinking, “Wow, they don’t have anything in common. I didn’t even think they were friends,” and then you think back and, “oh, they were roommates at camp.”
There is also more concrete business to be done. The action items include finding a starting center, shoring up the secondary and getting the backup quarterbacks as many reps as possible in case something should happen to Connor Halliday.
Leach also wants to find out if any of freshmen have what it takes to avoid a redshirt season and contribute early, especially at cornerback. Marcellus Pippins graduated high school early to participate in spring ball and Patrick Porter from Alabama arrived on campus after his reputation did.
“Well I think at corner we’re quick and we’re athletic, we’re not high on experience,” Leach explained. “Pippins is very quick and did some good stuff in spring, needs to continue to develop his skills. Porter did a good job in the offseason but I’m hearing about him from our strength coaches and from our players as they go out there and throw but I haven’t seen it, you know I haven’t seen it firsthand.”