Washington State football players traded their playbooks for textbooks Monday morning and the first day of the academic semester officially signaled the end of a three-week stretch we all know as fall camp.
The Cougars will now spend their mornings in classrooms – it’d been only meeting rooms up to this point – and the tone of WSU’s afternoon practices will continue to change as the team dedicates more time to scout work in preparation for the Sept. 2 opener against Montana State.
We take a quick look back at the first three weeks of practice and hand out all-camp honors to the five players who looked the best during the dog days of August.
James Williams, R-So., running back: In this quote-unquote running back “competition,” Williams has been a step or two ahead of the other three since the Cougars returned to Pullman from a week of scorching-hot workouts at Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High. Williams, with his one-cut-and-go ability, broke off a few long touchdown runs during the team’s scrimmages and the numbers back up this premise that he’s probably moved to the top of the depth chart. Williams ran for 146 yards on just nine carries and had four of the five rushing touchdowns by a running back.
Quote: “He plays the game so fast. They all do, but he’s a special individual. He can make things look good in a hurry.” – running backs coach Jim Mastro.
Daniel Ekuale, R-Sr., nose tackle: Ekuale bulked up this summer, but not at the expense of his speed or agility. Up 15 pounds from where he was in the spring, the Cougars’ full-time nose tackle hasn’t lost a step and appears to be thriving under Jeff Phelps’ tutelage. Ekuale’s been responsible for just two sacks over the course of his career, but nobody up front has looked more active during defensive line vs. offensive line drills, so I’d expect him to have a disruptive senior season.
Quote: “I see him really getting on with his pass rush. He’s a bigger dude, so he’s more of a run-stopper, but he’s been really getting on with the pass rush.” – defensive end Hercules Mata’afa.
Isaiah Johnson-Mack, So., “Z” receiver: The Cougars should feel good about two Belle Glade, Florida, products occupying the outside receiver positions this fall and Tavares Martin Jr. could have easily been an all-camp selection, too. But Johnson-Mack daringly chose to wear No. 9 this season – Gabe Marks, the Pac-12’s all-time receptions leader had it before him – and he’s yet to disappoint. Johnson-Mack caught six balls for 83 yards in the first scrimmage, including one catch downfield that saw him spin out of three tackles before dragging Dillon Sherman and Marcus Strong five more yards before they could bring him down.
Quote: “I think he’s become more consistent. If he has a bad play he doesn’t dwell on it. He comes back and makes a play the next time.” – coach Mike Leach.
Isaac Dotson, R-Sr., Will linebacker: As teammate/roommate Peyton Pelluer noted on Sunday evening, this will be the first time Dotson enters a season playing the same position he played the year before. The fifth-year senior came to Pullman as a safety, moved to nickel and now finishes his career at Will linebacker. But seeing the field from almost every angle has helped Dotson hone his instincts. The inside backer had a sack during the second scrimmage and was awarded half of another in the mock game last Friday. During the team period of a practice last week, Dotson showed good awareness to smother a botched snap in the backfield before anyone else noticed the ball was loose.
Quote: “He’s played literally every position on defense. He’s been moving around throughout the years, probably more than any defensive player we have right now.” – Pelluer.
Erik Powell, Sr., kicker: The third-year placekicker put quality ahead of quantity this offseason and if the first two weeks of August are any indication – mind you, they often aren’t – Powell’s on track to have his most consistent year yet. The senior was 5 of 6 on field goals in the two scrimmages, missing only a 47-yarder.
Quote: “His confidence is in a good spot right now, just have to keep building that and kind of break camp on some momentum and I think he’ll get off to a hot start,” special teams coach Eric Mele said.
Tyler Hilinski, R-So., quarterback: There hasn’t been much of a drop-off with Hilinski behind center. Luke Falk’s backup was 30 of 43 for 328 yards and six touchdowns in the two scrimmages.
Tavares Martin Jr., Jr., “X” receiver: Steady as ever, the other Floridian wideout had 12 catches to lead all receivers during the scrimmages. Three of those went for touchdowns.
Jamire Calvin, Fr., “H” receiver: The true freshman has spent a great deal of his first camp making WSU’s elder defenders look silly and with Robert Lewis’ health in limbo, Calvin could become a big part of the offensive plan early on.
B.J. Salmonson, R-Sr., right guard: The senior quashed any notion that there was a position against Robert Valencia and Salmonson’s been WSU’s man at right guard since camp started.
Chima Onyeukwu, R-Jr., Rush linebacker: The JC transfer may still find himself behind more experienced players like Dylan Hanser and Frankie Luvu when the depth chart comes out, though coaches will surely find room for the athletically-gifted junior.
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