This is the sixth of eight previews looking at WSU’s position-by-position prospects for the upcoming season. Today: Wide receivers. Saturday: Special teams.
PULLMAN – Losing the most productive receiver in school history would be a problem for most college football programs.
For the Washington State Cougars, it might be the only way to free up enough catches for everybody.
Vince Mayle set school records last season with 106 catches and 1,483 receiving yards. Isaiah Myers added 972 yards and 12 touchdowns to the Cougars receiving total. Those totals should be easily redistributed among WSU’s returning and emerging receivers.
The group should theoretically be led by Gabe Marks, who sat out last season after easily leading the team in catches and receiving yards in 2013. Many of those 2013 teammates have turned into dangerous players in their own rights, however, and sticking out in the group will be a more difficult task in 2015.
Dom Williams, the team’s fourth-leading receiver, has been primarily a big-play threat throughout his career, but enters his senior season as one of the team’s most consistent practice players.
“We’ve got a deep group and that’s a good problem to have, and a lot of guys that need touches,” said outside receivers coach Graham Harrell.
The Cougars add two talented receivers at the X and Z positions that line up near the sidelines on opposite sides of the field who will back up Williams and Marks, respectively.
WSU received an unexpected bonus when the NCAA approved a waiver for Kyrin Priester, allowing the Clemson transfer to play this season rather than sit out the year typically required of transfers.
In Priester the Cougars have a strong, fast, sure-handed receiver who is also expected to be the team’s punt returner.
“He’s a really competitive guy, one of the most competitive guys out here and that’s the type of guys we need to win,” Marks said. “He’s explosive, he’s an athlete. Can’t have too many of those guys out there.”
Behind Marks is Tavares Martin Jr., a true freshman who will begin the season as one of the team’s primary kickoff returners. At 6-foot-1, 165-pounds, Martin Jr. is still growing into his body, but he has immediately impressed with his willingness to accept coaching, his sure hands and, mostly, his speed.
“He’s a really fast guy, probably the fastest guy on the team,” said coach Mike Leach.
At the inside receiver positions, the Cougars return players who each showed the ability to be go-to receivers in spurts last year. River Cracraft has been Mr. Reliable since he started as a true freshman in 2013, and averaged more than seven catches and 85 yards in nine games last season. When Cracraft did not play, there was little drop-off at the Y-receiver position with Mississippi transfer Tyler Baker, who had nine catches for 113 yards and a touchdown in the win at Oregon State.
At H-receiver, diminutive Robert Lewis (5-foot-9, 170-pounds) has become a favorite of the coaches for his ability and willingness to block bigger players, and a favorite of the quarterbacks for his speed over the middle and on wheel routes up the sideline.
That the Cougars regularly play eight receivers and only two talented newcomers figure to play many snaps speaks to the depth the Cougars have amassed at the position. And with six returners who have already performed well against Pac-12 competition, WSU’s biggest wide receiver problem should be finding playing time for everyone.
“No one should ever have tired legs,” Harrell said.
WSU athletes will honor the late university president Elson S. Floyd with uniform patches and stickers in 2015. The football team’s helmets will have a sticker that reads “ESF” and a similar patch on the front of the jersey. … Redshirt freshman receiver Zaire Andre has left the program.