Last season Thursday nights were the Morrow and Wick Show starring a pair of redshirting running backs who were mostly hidden on scout team during the week but who spent one night each week showing off stunning glimpses of talent that foreshadowed a long and productive career. One year later Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks are atop the WSU depth chart, quickly making good on all that promise.
Well if tonight's practice was any indication, receiver Barry Ware and running back Squally Canada are the next pair of talented offensive players you'll hear about every Thursday night, but will have to wait a year to see for yourself.
Read about their exploits and the rest of today's practice after the jump.
Ware has been on campus for less than a week and today was his first time putting on full pads, but it's taken very little time for the 6-foot-2, 213 pound freshman receiver to show why he had a scholarship offer from the Cougars, as well as schools such as Fresno State, UCLA and Utah.
He had a 40-yard catch over Marcellus Pippins on a pass from Peyton Bender, in which he used his body to knock the cornerback backwards before leaping up to snag the ball. Was it offensive pass interference? Yeah, probably, but you've got to like the early aggressiveness from the receiver.
Pippins later got Ware back, leaping in front of the receiver with his hand just high enough to tip a pass that Ware was about to catch for a big game.
Ware later caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Connor Ennis, timing his jump to reel in a ball that looked like it was over his head.
"Yeah, you know coming out here for maybe the first padded practice I think, he did really well," coach Clay McGuire said. "Caught a couple balls and obviously showed flashes of why everybody wanted him."
Canada had his best day of practice yet, and looks like a guy who will be able to join Morrow and Wicks next season to form a pretty fearsome running back trio. He's a heavy 5-foot-10, 192, and has a one-cut, aggressive running style that gets him eight yards through contact seemingly every time there's a hole.
He's got some Marshawn Lynch to him in that he almost seems to seek out contact, and while the defenders were able to stop him for a minimal gain a couple times, it always took a few and they looked like they came out the worst in the fight afterwards.
"Part of it is we gave him some holes today but he sees them and he runs really hard, he's a big physical kid, he can move and some of his most impressive runs today were ones that he only got two yards on," McGuire said. "He's just bouncing off people and running over people for those extra, just to get minimal yards. He got a few holes today and we had some guys do a decent job opening them up for him so it was good to see him get decent carries."
While the freshmen duo had impressive days, redshirting junior (sophomore?) Gabe Marks was still the offensive MVP, collecting the offense's other two touchdowns. On the first he caught an intermediate pass near the right sideline about 10 yards from the end zone, he juked left to get past a cornerback, then faked right before darting back to his left, slipping past the safety for the score.
On the second he caught a diving pass with Sebastian LaRue in tight coverage near the back of the end zone – some of the defensive players and coaches insist he was out of bounds to this day – and holding onto the ball while his momentum carried him all the way into the wall that separates the CrimZone from the field.
Hercules Mata'afa had a good day defensively, collecting a couple sacks thanks in part to a good interior push from Ngalu Tapa.
Here are some quick notes from the regular portion of practice:
-- Quentin Breshears made a 40-yard field goal, and then made a 37-yarder that must have been considered a "game winner" type situation because the rest of his unit started cheering.
-- Morrow and Marcus Mason were the kick returners today.
-- Teondray Caldwell participated in Thursday Night Football and has been running with the scout team at times.
-- Theron West wasn't at practice today. I don't think it affects his status with the team, however. He missed most of Tuesday's practice dealing with a family matter and the coaches seemed completely fine with it.
-- Couple fights broke out among the young guys today. One gets the impression they're growing weary of not getting any real battle action, but they'll have to wait.
-- Darius Lemora had a nice, one-handed interception in the end zone on a pass from Marks, who is still playing scout team quarterback.
-- Cody O'Connell is no longer wearing a yellow jersey and was getting some work in with the offensive line in. "He's doing well," McGuire said. "He's full-go and he's practicing well and we're excited about the things he's doing right now and we'll just continue to work him more into it."