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Freshmen Molton, Martin give WSU needed depth

PULLMAN – The ingredients for significant improvement are typically found in a football team’s own garden. Players get bigger and stronger, bonds between teammates become more cohesive and coaches become better able to translate their desires into execution during games.

Significant changes to either players or coaches often do little more than reset progress, and getting younger is a move that usually takes time to pay dividends.

But a couple of youthful additions in the right places can be just what propel a team to the next step in its development.

That’s what Mike Leach was hoping for when he gave Alex Grinch his first defensive coordinator position, and it’s what all the Cougars hope will be the result of giving big roles to Darrien Molton and Tavares Martin Jr. just a couple of months after the freshmen arrived in Pullman for their first college classes.

In 2001, when the Cougars blossomed from a four-win afterthought into a 10-win bully, it did so with the help of freshmen contributors like Allen Thompson and Trandon Harvey.

When the 2013 team made the program’s first bowl run in a decade, then-freshman River Cracraft caught 46 passes.

None of these freshmen were stars immediately, but they gave the Cougars a little extra depth and production in addition to what the improved returnees were able to provide.

Molton gives the Cougars one more capable player at cornerback, a position where WSU lacked able bodies since the first play of the season – an 80-yard touchdown pass by Rutgers to a receiver who ran right by Tracy Clark.

Molton played well during WSU’s preseason camp in Lewiston and appears to have overtaken Marcellus Pippins for the starting spot opposite Charleston White.

“He’s been running with our one-group and that’s something that’s earned, you don’t get tryouts with the ones,” Grinch said. “He’s earned that up to this point and we’ll see next week if he finds himself there. He’s a guy that’s going to have a significant role for our defense.”

While Molton’s arrival helps shore up an area of concern for the Cougars entering the season, Martin adds depth and a different skill set to what was already WSU’s strongest position.

The Floridian will be the No. 2 at the Z-receiver position, backing up Gabe Marks. Besides giving Marks a rest, Martin’s speed – Leach has called him “maybe the fastest guy on the team – will give opposing defenses one more thing to prepare for.

Martin will also contribute by returning kickoffs.

While Molton and Martin are the two freshmen currently in the two-deeps on offense and defense – freshman Zach Charme is the punter – they will probably not be the only freshmen to forego a redshirt their first year at WSU.

Safety Hunter Dale also seems certain to see the field as he has recently been practicing with the second-string defense. Kameron Powell could also be called upon this year, and Kyle Sweet is likely the next man up should anything befall one of the inside receivers.

While the Cougars would like to save running back James Williams for the future, he may not give them a choice. Because while WSU’s depth has improved since the Cougars played 17 freshmen during Leach’s first year on campus, so have the recruiting classes.

“Right now, I hope (Williams redshirts),” said running backs coach Jim Mastro. “But the more he keeps producing like he does, and the better he gets, you see the kind of body he brings to us. The best guys are going to play. If he’s one of the best guys he’s going to play.”

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