Paul Mencke takes nutritional advice from a guy who weighs 300 pounds, so it might be a stretch to consider him the “logical” choice to become Washington State’s next starting quarterback.
But he’s in the running, for sure. There was little doubt of that Monday as Mencke and the defending Pacific-10 Conference champions opened spring football practices in Martin Stadium.
Mencke, the former two-sport star at Lewis and Clark High School, has added about 15 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame. The 232-pounder has been a regular in the weight room this offseason, but he also credits his roommate, 300-pound lineman Joe Criscione, with giving him a nutritional edge.
“Two vitamins a day, some zinc pills and some Vitamin C,” Mencke explained. “You know, take a few protein supplements. It helps a lot.”
Hey, whatever works. “I’m serious,” Mencke added.
Mencke made a persuasive opening statement Monday, showcasing improved accuracy and arm strength while connecting with Nian Taylor, among others, on several deep passes.
“He’s just worked himself into competing for the job,” coach Mike Price said.
Junior college transfer Bryan Paul, junior Steve Birnbaum and walk-on freshman Billy Graffis also participated in passing drills, although Birnbaum was limited by a knee injury that will keep him from participating fully until the fall.
Freshman quarterback Sam Baurichter did not practice. The 6-6, 204-pounder was among several players who will miss all or part of spring practices while addressing academic deficiencies, Price said.
Mencke’s continued development seems critical as WSU determines a successor to all-conference quarterback Ryan Leaf. For now, Leaf’s decision to enter the NFL draft as a junior has given Mencke and the other quarterbacks renewed enthusiasm.
“It’s real exciting and I’m just happy for the opportunity,” Mencke said. “We have a more relaxed atmosphere, just because you know you’re going to get more repetitions and if you throw one bad ball, you’re going to be able to come back and have a few more chances to right yourself.”
Eric Price, hired by his father to coach quarterbacks, liked what he saw in his first practice as a Cougar. A former assistant at Northern Arizona, Cal Poly, Miami and Hawaii, Price said he was particularly impressed by the athleticism that helped Mencke earn league MVP honors as a high school basketball player.
“He’s a lot like Ryan as far as being a big, strong kid who can run and jump,” Price said.
Starting tight end Love Jefferson was the most prominent player held out because of an academic deficiency, Mike Price said… . The 10th-year coach said he turned over quarterback coaching duties to his son in part because he wanted to take a more active role in academic compliance. … Free safety Lamont Thompson, who intercepted six passes in WSU’s final three games last season, wasted no time in adding to his collection Monday. The 6-1, 204-pound sophomore picked off the very first play-action pass of the spring, leaving his head coach in disbelief. “He’s amazing, isn’t he?” Price marveled. “The first play-action pass of the whole practice should be wide open, and he steps right in front and makes the interception.” Thompson is expected to see time at receiver this spring, but probably not until next week.
Four players were held out because of knee injuries: freshman receiver Adam Davis, senior running back Miguel Meriwether and defensive ends Eboni Wilson and Jesse Ratcliff. Jon Ottenbreit, a potential candidate to fill the vacancy at center, will miss spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery. … Earl Riley is practicing at safety and could play a role in the nickel package. The 6-1, 217-pounder played linebacker in high school, but he picked off seven passes while playing cornerback at Merced (Calif.) Junior College two years ago. Riley redshirted last season. … Leaf, receiver Shawn McWashington and offensive lineman Jason McEndoo were the only former WSU players to drop by practice.
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