PULLMAN – When last year’s football season ended, the future of Washington State’s running game looked solid. After all, the top five running backs were slated to return, ensuring depth and talent at a position often overlooked in Pullman.
Then came spring and summer. And Derrell Hutsona and DeMaundray Woolridge, 2006’s second- and third-leading rushers, were no longer available, academic casualties.
But still, when talking with Cougars head coach Bill Doba in the off-season, he never seemed worried about the running back position.
Maybe it’s because he knew Dwight Tardy was coming back.
The 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore from St. Paul High in Southern California led the Cougars in rushing last year, gaining 667 yards on a team-high 145 carries. He started the final nine games, showing a grit that endeared him to Doba.
“Tardy is a tough kid,” the coach said Monday, giving his No. 1 running back the ultimate football accolade.
And pinpointing Tardy’s self-proclaimed strong suit.
“I really don’t know,” Tardy said when asked his strengths as a runner. “I guess my main strengths are I have more mental (intensity) and more heart. I have a never-quit attitude. That’s all I’ve got going for me. I’m not the strongest, I’m not the fastest guy out here, I’m not the quickest, but my whole motto is try to find a way to get it done.”
It’s that attitude that has already won over first-year running backs coach Steve Broussard, who knows a little something about overcoming doubts. At 5-7, Broussard was often overlooked despite gaining more than 3,000 yards rushing at Washington State in the late 1980s.
“For me, I like a guy that has an attitude, that loves the game, that is coachable,” Broussard said. “So you know, the build and the type is not a big concern of mine. Sometimes people get caught up that you have to be a certain size and a certain build to do certain things.
“You have to look at the heart and the passion of the kid and go from there.”
Which is why, after just a couple of days of practice, Broussard likes the six-pack of running backs he’s working with.
“It’s a good group of guys, young, but with some game experience,” Broussard said. “Tardy, I guess, is the only one with real game-time experience. But those young guys, (Christopher) Ivory, (Marcus) Richmond, (Kevin) McCall, they can help.”
Doba sees it the same way.
“As I said before, we don’t have a Jerome Harrison, the guys who is going to make everybody miss one-on-one, but we’ve got four or five really good receivers, so they are going to have to respect the pass. You can run draws and screens with those backs and you don’t have to be Walter Payton to be successful.”
Though one, Ivory, returned to school this year looking a little like Payton. The sophomore from Longview, Texas appeared in just three games last year, but broke off the Cougs’ longest run, 85 yards, against Idaho. An illness in his family forced him to head home early.
He’s back and has added 25 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot frame. And the 228-pounder has caught Doba’s eye.
“Ivory is a big strong kid, a slasher that can help us quite a bit,” the coach said.
Tardy sees Ivory’s new build as nothing but a positive.
“It’s healthy competition,” Tardy said when asked if he felt any pressure for the starting spot. “It makes me a better person, it makes the guys behind me better. If I do go down, we do have guys ready to step in, to carry the weight.”
The biggest excitement at practice came when Husain Abdullah grabbed an errant Kevin Lopina pass and returned it to the end zone in the team’s non-contact scrimmage. Two plays later the second-team defense was beat deep and the offense was able to celebrate. … One of the more interesting battles in camp is for the No. 3 quarterback spot behind Alex Brink and Gary Rogers. Returner Cole Morgan is battling Lopina, a Kansas State transfer who redshirted last year. After two days, it looks as if Lopina has pulled ahead. … Colfax High’s Brian Danaher showed up Monday with his left foot in a boot. His status will be determined later in the week.