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WSU spring football: O-line features battling centers

Washington State sophomore center Sam Flor runs through a drill during practice in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Washington State sophomore center Sam Flor runs through a drill during practice in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland)

PULLMAN – A 6-foot-4, 230-pound giant stuck out his mitt, invited Connor Halliday to a round of golf and suddenly transferring to Ferris High School from familiar Lewis and Clark wasn’t quite as intimidating for the toothpick-thin quarterback.

Elliott Bosch had Halliday’s back from then on. The pair both went to Washington State and last season the emerging gunslinger never touched a ball unless Bosch snapped it to him.

But Bosch won’t be there for what should be Halliday’s defining season, having since graduated and leaving Riley Sorenson and Sam Flor to compete for the right to replace the quarterback’s most trusted teammate.

“It just helped a lot knowing (Bosch) knows my personality and stuff and I’ll maybe snap here or there but that’s just my personality and he knows that it is what it is, and the next play it’s over and we go with it,” Halliday said. “That’s what we’re working with those two new guys is kind of getting them used to me and me used to them.”

This spring the two sophomores are receiving a crash course at starting in what Halliday says is the offensive line’s most important position.

Not only is the WSU center expected to perfectly deliver the ball to Halliday 70 or more times per game before immediately blocking the other team’s interior defensive lineman.

He must also be the leader of the offensive line, directing the unit while changing blocking assignments on the fly.

“You have to be smart, you have to have a quick first step,” offensive line coach Clay McGuire said. “In our offense the centers call the fronts and kind of direct everything. The quarterback gives us what we need to know and from there it’s on the center. It’s not on the quarterback or anything else. The center has to know everything.”

So far, neither Flor nor Sorenson has gained the upper hand. While the coaches and Halliday acknowledge that they would like to name a starter as soon as possible, McGuire says he’s ready to wait until the day before the Cougars open the season against Rutgers if need be.

Though the two linemen have different skill sets their overall level of skill is comparable, for the moment.

“I’d say Sam probably has a little bit more experience, is probably a little bit more efficient and faster calling fronts and everything,” McGuire said. “Right now Riley might have a little more pop off the ball, I’d say.”

Currently, the pair split reps and alternate days to decide who will have the first crack with the starting unit. This means that Halliday spends only half of his reps building a rhythm with the center from whom he will eventually take every snap.

The same goes for the backup quarterbacks, Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk, one of whom will likely start alongside the winning center in the future.

“We take the same amount of reps per practice,” Sorenson explained. “Say he gets to go the first six repetitions with the ones, then I’ll go the second six. We just switch off so it’s not really that big of a difference.”

The offensive line as a whole is a young unit, with no seniors and only two returning starters. With inexperience has come mistakes and head coach Mike Leach has stopped practice occasionally to express his ire towards the offensive line.

The unit is still in its formative stages and going against a defensive line with experienced veterans like senior Kalafitoni Pole and junior Xavier Cooper has exposed the need for rapid improvement, particularly on the interior.

But that experience has accelerated that requisite improvement and given the players a taste of what they can expect against other defensive stars.

“Those are probably some of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12, if not the entire country,” Flor said. “Those are big boys, those are fast guys. I think I compete pretty well with them, just getting better and that will make me more prepared for the season.”

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