PULLMAN – The Washington State wide receiver isn’t grumbling, but there are everyday obstacles that come with having hands as big as Easop Winston’s.
The “oven mitts” attached to Winston’s forearms – that’s how head coach Mike Leach describes them, anyway – have become a key asset for the Cougars and their Air Raid offense on Saturdays.
But Monday through Friday? Well, sometimes they get in the way.
When Winston reaches into a pocket for his iPhone X, he places the device into the palm of his right hand and wraps his thumb around the face of the screen until it overlaps with his index finger on the other side.
If you don’t believe Winston’s hands are abnormally large, try it yourself.
“That’s not normal,” he said. “So when I do that around my family, around my teammates, they’re like, ‘I can’t do that.’ The goal is to get a new phone for Christmas, a bigger one. But that one, like, dude it’s too little for my hands. It’s just like I’m gripping a tennis ball or something. But yeah, we’ll see if my mom gets me that.”
You listening, mom?
In his debut season, the redshirt junior from San Francisco reeled in 48 passes (fourth on the team) for 611 yards (third) and eight touchdowns (tied for first).
Splitting time at “Z” receiver with Dezmon Patmon, Winston posted consecutive 100-yard receiving yards against USC and Utah and was 36 inches short of a third when he went for 99 yards the following week against Oregon State.
And there’s this nugget: Winston hasn’t drop a pass in 2018.
According to Pro Football Focus, only one other player in the country – UCLA’s Theo Howard – was more dependable, catching 51 passes without a drop. The PFF breakdown only measures balls that are deemed catchable.
“When that stat came out, I was very humbled and blessed to be able to keep that all throughout the season,” Winston said.
It might be masked by his humility, but Winston probably doesn’t find the stat surprising. His hands have always been his meal ticket.
They’re the reason an underdeveloped high school receiver, small in stature at 5-foot-8, 150 pounds, was offered a spot on the football roster at a junior college powerhouse. Three seasons later, they’re the reason the 5-10, 170-pound version of that same player was able to snatch a last-minute Pac-12 scholarship from Washington State.
Winston vaguely remembers dropping one pass his final year at Serra, also his first playing wide receiver, and he thinks there was one more gaffe at City College of San Francisco. He caught 27 passes at Serra and 133 more over two seasons at CCSF. For every 80 passes Winston hauled in, one fell to the turf.
Once in junior college, Winston was running a routine curl route when he watched one of those balls whiz right through his hands. The receiver shrugged it off, but the rest of his teammates paused and looked at Winston as if they’d seen a ghost.
“My teammates weren’t used to me dropping balls,” he said, “so they were looking at me kind of funny.”
Winston is deceptively quick, but he doesn’t jump off the charts with his foot speed. He experienced a growth spurt during his grayshirt season at CCSF, but that only bumped him to 5-10. Almost every other outside receiver on the WSU roster has at least 4 inches on him. He’s not winning too many head-to-head battles on the squat rack, either.
So Winston had balanced those perceived shortcomings by being Mr. Reliable. Catch anything, catch everything.
“At the end of the day, the position’s called a receiver,” he said. “You have to be able to receive the ball, at the end of the day, no matter what else you can do. I feel like that’s how I got here and I feel like it’s kind of benefited me this season.”
Already, Winston’s had two record-setting WSU quarterbacks offer him the highest praise.
After Gardner Minshew connected with Winston for the 89-yard touchdown that beat Utah earlier this season, the QB said of the play: “I saw one-on-one coverage with a guy who’s pretty much unguardable one-on-one. I just gave him a chance and we made it work.”
The junior college transfer had been on campus for only a few months in April 2017 when Luke Falk described Winston’s hands as “the best I’ve ever seen.”
Coaches and teammates still rave about their sheer size, too.
One perk of playing at this level is school-supplied receiver gloves. Before he arrived at WSU, Winston often spent hours fishing through Eastbay apparel magazines for gloves big enough to fit his disproportionately sized hands.
“They’re gigantic,” Leach said earlier this season. “That would be worth your while. Request interview him just so you can hold your hand up next to his. It is astounding because he’s 5-10 or whatever he is. It’s astounding.”
“They’re crazy big. They’re outrageously big.”
In the past, when he’s been unsuccessful in finding a receiver glove his size, Winston’s resorted to using offensive/defensive lineman gloves. They don’t have the same adhesive properties as a receiver glove, and he often has to cut out the extra padding, but it’s a job worth doing if it means more comfort on the field.
“The size of his hands, it is bigger than anybody else’s I’ve seen,” outside receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. “He wears 2XL gloves and he does have large hands and he uses it well.”
The 2XL size is what Winston settled on this season, after a short trial with a 3XL glove. The 3XL fits, he assures.
According to Winston, Patmon, who stands 5 inches taller, also wears a 2XL. Tay Martin, a 6-3 junior, wears an XL, while Calvin Jackson, probably Winston’s best size comparison at 5-10, uses a “large” but also fits into a “medium.”
“The bigger, the better,” Leach said. “His aren’t just like long, skinny hands. They’re big everywhere.”
The Cougars can take comfort in knowing Winston’s hands won’t get any smaller. His cellphones might just have to get bigger.
“It really helps him a lot,” Martin said. “When he catches the ball, it looks too natural. Guy has great hands, any ball in the air I’d bet any amount of money he’s coming down with it.”
This season, it would’ve been a pretty safe gamble.
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