PULLMAN – Easop Winston’s height isn’t a restraint, but you’ll find outside wide receivers on Washington State’s roster much more willowy than the 5-foot-11 redshirt junior.
Winston’s foot speed, although not a setback, isn’t something that distinguishes the junior college transfer from the other pass-catchers vying for repetitions in Pullman this spring.
Nor is Winston winning his one-on-one duels with defensive backs by exerting supreme strength at the point of contact. But he’s still winning them.
The Cougars are through nine practices of 2018 spring camp and you’d only be able to pick out a handful in which the City College of San Francisco transfer hasn’t been the most productive wide receiver. The second-year player is firmly entrenched in WSU’s wideout rotation – comprised of eight players, two at each position (X, H, Y and Z) – and should be one solution on the outside for a team that needs to replace the 130 balls caught last season by Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack.
“I’m very impressed with him. I like everything he does. I like his personality, I like his tempo,” first-year outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “… He’s a guy that’ll definitely play and play a lot of snaps. He does a lot of really good job for us offensively.”
The fact that Winston redshirted after joining the Cougars as a JC transfer makes him a rare breed of college football player.
Junior college players are often brought to Division I programs for the sole purpose of contributing right away, generally because of the physical maturity they have over high school recruits and/or because they pick up new material at a quicker rate.
Winston had much of the package put together when he got to WSU last spring and he immediately drew a ringing endorsement from standout quarterback Luke Falk, who said the WR possessed the “softest hands” of any player he’d thrown to. But he was never in peak physical shape and therefore Winston wound up beneath a pile of young inside receivers who came along faster than most expected them to.
“It was a little tough, but at the end of the day I know God has a plan for me,” Winston said after a rain-soaked Tuesday practice at Martin Stadium. “I just took it and ran with it. Just got better and really tried to perfect my craft last year, and this year I can see that what I worked on last year is definitely showing itself and evident to me on the field.”
Winston, who’d make the switch from inside to outside receiver, finally got in shape. But he didn’t instantly become one of WSU’s top practice players by acquiring top-end speed or sprouting 5 inches between years one and two in Pullman.
He found another way to stand out in head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.
“Easop’s gotten where he’s kind of explosive out there and he gets a lot of mop-up balls,” Leach said. “If a play breaks down or something or if he’s not the first read, he keeps working, so he finds his way into a lot of balls and I think when you develop that kind of reliability, then the quarterbacks find you and they’ll look for you if they get in a bind.”
In one instance during Tuesday’s live team period, quarterback Anthony Gordon shook off his first read, escaped a congested pocket and found Winston on the run. The receiver stuck the ball near the sideline, juked safety Deion Singleton and shifted away from Dylan Axelson, sprinting into the end zone to complete a 55-yard touchdown.
Winston’s “after-the-fact production,” as Leach terms it, has allowed him to accumulate more spring touchdowns than any other WSU receiver. Slot receiver Kyle Sweet is a close second, both in touchdown production and consistency.
“Something will break down and (Winston) keeps going and he keeps going and he’ll get a ball,” Leach said.
The receiver credits that to his “love of the game.” But maybe it’s because he has a selfish side, too.
“I just want the ball in my hand at all times,” Winston said, “so if a play ever breaks down, I’m usually that guy trying to run around, waving my hand, throwing the mail up, trying to get any ball I can out there.
Winston has been the preferred safety net for each of WSU’s quarterbacks this spring, but he has a special rapport with Gordon, a former teammate at City College of San Francisco. They made up one of the most dangerous tag teams in the Bay 6 League during the 2015 season. Gordon threw for 3,864 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. Winston caught 62 passes for 986 yards and 12 touchdowns.
That chemistry didn’t dissipate when both players moved their college careers from the Bay Area to the Palouse.
“He’ll give me a look and I’ll kind of know what he wants and that’s definitely been great for us, too, being able to come here and still have that connection that we built at City,” Winston said.
“That was my go-to guy at our junior college our one year,” Gordon said. “Me and him, we have a little connection going. We give each other a little look or something, kind of can read each others’ minds a little bit, I guess.”
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