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WSU’s six early enrollees adjust to life in Pullman

Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa (50) was one of 34 players named to the Ted Hendricks Award watch list. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)
Washington State’s Hercules Mata’afa (50) was one of 34 players named to the Ted Hendricks Award watch list. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

PULLMAN – As far as senior springs go, Anthony White’s is pretty hectic.

While White’s friends back in Miami spend their morning’s sleeping in, taking advantage of a free period afforded to upperclassmen who have all their electives taken care of, White heads to the weight room.

It is possible White’s friends have track practice after school, or perhaps they head to the beach. Maybe squeeze in some more relationship drama before everyone’s paths ultimately diverge.

After school White has a full-pads practice in the rain – temperatures are in the mid-80s in Miami this week – and after that he has more school.

“At the end of the day I may have two hours of free time,” White said.

White voluntarily gave up the most carefree months of his teenage years so that he could be the small man on campus, hoping to get a head start on working hard and that the extra reps, eventually, will make him a better football player.

He is one of six newcomers who enrolled in time for spring semester in order to participate in spring practices and speed up the acclimation process. But only White and defensive back Zaire Webb, another Florida product, are doing conditioning drills in Pullman instead of getting ready for prom.

Cornerback Isaiah Love graduated in 2016 but delayed his enrollment a year in order to heal from a car accident that cost him his senior season of high school football.

Defensive back Sean Harper, wide receiver Easpon Winston and offensive lineman Robert Valencia all transferred from junior colleges. While the benefits to the Cougars of having players participate in 15 extra practices is obvious, none of the six players was brought in early to prepare for life on the pine.

Valencia and White were each four-star prospects, and the offensive lineman is expected to make a push to start at right guard in the fall. Valencia is living by himself in an apartment, preparing his own meals and cleaning his own space, for the first time.

So while blocking Pac-12 defensive linemen like Nnamdi Oguayo and Hercules Mata’afa for the first time presents certain challenges, Valencia is grateful for the familiarity of the football field.

“It’s definitely a stress reliever,” Valencia said. “You’ve got class and that whole part of life. You get to forget about all that when you get out on the field. That really helps relieve all the tension of school and managing all that.”

Valencia has played tackle for most of his career and is adjusting to playing guard. Playing tackle is hard because you have to control a defender in a lot of space. Playing guard is hard because you have to control a defender in your own, personal space.

“It’s more hands-on and you’ve got to deal with a bull rush,” Valencia said. “Just being able to handle a different technique.”

The early enrollees got one last opportunity to see the easy life they could have had when they went home for spring break. White decided to dispense some wisdom to his friends, who do not yet know what awaits them at the next level of competition.

“I wanted to make sure they realized that the coaching they’re getting now, it’s pretty similar to the coaching we’re getting here,” White said. “Just play hard, play fast, take people serious. Those things translate so just make sure they’re listening to the coaches that they have now and make sure that translates when they go to the next level and are in the position that I am.”

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