PULLMAN – B.J. Salmonson is certainly not Washington State’s biggest left guard.
He probably is not its strongest center and he might not even be the most athletic left guard.
But he’s the only guy on the team who could step in right now and play any of the three positions.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound Salmonson played in all 13 games last season but started only one, at left guard. For two years he has been offensive line coach Clay McGuire’s utility man, able to fill in at any of the interior line positions, or come in as a sixth lineman when the Cougars were experimenting with jumbo sets.
How versatile is Salmonson? When he starred at Class 1A Nooksack Valley (Washington) High he was most dominant as a defensive lineman, racking up 78 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss as a junior.
While he was not able to beat out longtime center Riley Sorenson for the starting center spot in 2016, when any interior offensive lineman was injured Salmonson was the replacement. The rest of the line would shuffle around him as need be.
It was a luxury for McGuire, who often cross-trains his backups at different offensive line positions to manufacture depth at many spots and to see what combinations might work well in the future. Salmonson held up well with limited reps, but the Cougars’ success the last two years has been in large part because of an established group that was talented and used to playing together.
“He’s always shown flashes but couldn’t put it together to consistently be a starter,” McGuire said. “But I’ll tell you what: He’s always been a tough, gritty, blue-collar kid. He’s never missed a practice and always comes out here ready to work.”
Eduardo Middleton finally graduated after holding down WSU’s starting right guard position for the last three years, creating an opportunity for Salmonson to finally start and to focus on one position.
“It’s probably been the best spring of his career,” said WSU head coach Mike Leach, who takes a keen interest in the offensive line, watching film of all the drills and referring to it as his favorite position.
He joins an established offensive line highlighted by unanimous All-American Cody O’Connell at left guard, athletic Andre Dillard at left tackle, veteran leader Cole Madison at right tackle and the young prodigy, true sophomore Frederick Mauigoa, at center.
Salmonson said that sitting behind Middleton for so long gave him an example of how hard one must work to keep a starting spot, and made him cherish the opportunity to finally be a starter in his final year in the program.
“I’ll definitely say I’m a tough guy who likes to get in there and scrap,” Salmonson said.
The coaches are not handing the spot to Salmonson. They recruited a junior college prospect, Robert Valencia, to compete with him for the position. So far, Salmonson has been able to hold off all challengers and take the reps with the first unit.