PULLMAN – The days when a college football player was routinely expected to have an offensive and defensive position are long gone but Pac-12 coaches are rediscovering the merits of having their best athletes contribute on both sides of the ball.
In the Pac-12 alone, talented players like USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, Washington’s John Ross III and UCLA’s Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark have shown the ability to contribute on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Washington State’s Mike Leach says that two-way players are not about to become the new normal in college football, but even the Cougars have seen fit to use a talented offensive player in a defensive capacity, having star receiver Marquess Wilson play defense against a Hail Mary in 2012.
Across the country, Pittsburgh’s James Conner plays running back and defensive end for the Panthers and in recent years guys like UW’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Stanford’s Owen Marecic paved the way for this year’s two-way stars.
They are rare and Leach is likely correct that they will continue to be so because learning one position is challenging enough for most players.
“I think it’s hard to do. There’s a lot of sophistication to what we’re tying to do on both sides of the ball,” UW coach Chris Petersen said. “So to just throw a guy out there without having him, with this tremendous attention to detail is really hard to do. What meetings do you put him in, what walk-throughs do you put him in, how do you divide up reps? It’s a lot easier said than done.”
The two biggest two-way stars will collide this Saturday when Washington and Shaq Thompson play host to UCLA and Myles Jack.
Both players are linebackers that were pressed into duty at running back because of injuries on offense. Jack was the Pac-12 freshman of the year for both offense and defense in 2013, while Thompson gained 174 yards on 15 carries last weekend at Colorado, and added a 41-yard reception.
But both players are linebackers first. Jack led the Bruins with 11 passes defensed a year ago, and Thompson already has four defensive touchdowns this season.
“We had some backs that were a little banged up and we needed to get something going there,” Petersen said. “Every situation is different and unique depending on your team and who’s playing well and where you need a spark.”
Both players say that linebacker is their preferred position, that they’d rather hit than be hit.
“He’s got a defensive mindset,” said UCLA coach Jim Mora about Jack. “I don’t know that there’s a difference between a defensive mindset and an offensive mindset but there is a certain amount of aggression that Myles brings to the running back position, a certain passion and maybe aggression in his running style that maybe is a function of his defensive mentality.”
With both players likely to see reps on both sides of the ball, it seems certain that two of the conference’s best linebackers will combine for some massive collisions on Saturday.
So what remains to be seen from these dual-threat players is if one can make the other miss, and which one hits hardest.
New WSU receiver
Washington State’s corps of future receivers added a player on Tuesday when Kyrin Priester signed a financial aid agreement with WSU.
Priester will enroll in January 2015 and participate in spring football practices. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound receiver began the year as a freshman at Clemson University, but was dismissed after playing on special teams in the season opener against Georgia.
He is from Lilburn, Georgia, and attended Fork Union Military Academy where he reportedly earned scholarship offers from Georgia, Ohio State, South Carolina and other schools. He will sit out next season in accordance with NCAA transfer rules and have three years of eligibility remaining.
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