PULLMAN – For an unpadded, initial workout, Washington State University’s first spring football practice Thursday had a fair degree of game-like real conditions – if the game were one of those miserable, late November, stormy Apple Cups.
The Cougars worked out in Martin Stadium in weather conditions that gradually deteriorated to about 40 degrees and a relentless rain. The environment gave head coach Mike Leach some indication that his team, at least, can persevere.
“I thought we responded to the weather really good,” Leach said.
“It was a really good effort. We need to transition a little quicker. But it was the first day.”
After position and unit drills, the Cougars concluded with a lengthy 11-on-11 session in the cold wind and rain.
There was success to go around for offense and defense. Sophomore linebackers Dillon Sherman and Dominick Silvels made end-zone interceptions. Junior receiver Dezmon Patmon was elusive enough to frustrate defensive backs and, like all the receivers, was adept at locating balls thrown into traffic.
Freshman running back Max Borghi caught a touchdown on a wheel route that Leach drew attention to after practice. Borghi showed notable quickness and balance in drills.
Senior running back Keith Harrington set a tone for the backs with consistent, determined running, including legging out a 50-yard sprint to the end zone after breaking through a couple of arm tackles. Harrington is eager to show he can do the same thing when defenders are able to lower shoulder pads against him.
“This little touch-touch is cool,” Harrington said. “But us running backs, that’s what we do. We strap on the pads.”
As a senior, Harrington also feels a responsibility to set an example for younger teammates by being a vocal leader and by “running everywhere. Not walking from place to place.”
Leach said Harrington hasn’t waited until now to take on that responsibility.
“He’s done a good job since he’s been here,” Leach said. “He’s a high-effort guy. He has a good motor.
“The running backs’ footwork was a lot better than last year. We ran pretty good for a day without pads.”
Thursday’s practice was the first for the Cougars since Tyler Hilinski, who was in line to be the starting quarterback, took his life in January. Leach said he addressed that privately with the team. Several players after practice answered questions about Hilinski.
“He’ll always be in our minds, on the field with us,” defensive back Hunter Dale said.
“I think about Tyler every day,” wide receiver Kyle Sweet said.
Given the weather and the fact spring practice is just getting under way, Leach thought the quarterbacks performed better than he expected.
“(Freshman left-hander Cammon Cooper) checked at the line of scrimmage,” Leach said. “It wasn’t perfect, but it was ahead of schedule.”
“There’s a lot of good energy from the new coaches,” Sweet said. “(With one practice concluded) all of us, in my opinion, are accepting them very well.”
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