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With four TDs in four games, WR Easop Winston is thriving in first season at Washington State

Washington State Cougars wide receiver Easop Winston  runs the ball for a touchdown against USC last Friday  at L.A. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Easop Winston Jr. was still huffing and puffing as he strolled up to a group interview Tuesday afternoon following Washington State practice at Rogers Field.

It feels like the junior wide receiver hasn’t stopped moving since he put on a Cougars uniform for the first time earlier this month.

Last Friday in the second quarter against USC, Winston ran a crisp 10-yard post pattern to shed Trojans corner Greg Johnson before motoring into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown. His route didn’t stop there. Winston dropped the ball and raced back across the end zone to find the 10 family members in the grandstand who’d traveled from the Bay Area to watch him play in Los Angeles.

“They came in a pack and it was great,” he said. “… I had that kind of planned out. They told me where they were sitting before the game, so I knew if I got in the end zone I knew where to go.”

The dogged persistence Winston has shown his first season at WSU was also on display later in the game.

In the fourth quarter, with the Cougars stationed on USC’s 4-yard line, Winston lined up at his “Z” position, off to the right of Gardner Minshew and about 5-10 yards in from the sideline. Minshew caught the snap, looked off multiple reads and scrambled toward the left sideline. Winston imitated his quarterback and trailed across the back of the end zone until Minshew spotted him. The QB finessed a short pass to the receiver, giving Winston his second touchdown of the game.

It resembled so many of the plays the junior college transfer made – and touchdowns he scored – during spring camp, when Mike Leach regularly praised Winston for his improvisation and ability to extend plays.

“Easop gets a lot of mop-up balls,” Leach said in April. “Something will break down and he keeps going and he keeps going and he’ll get a ball.”

After catching his breath Tuesday, Winston gave a detailed examination of the touchdown to local reporters. The key, he said, was to keep running until he was squarely in Minshew’s line of vision.

“I see him scrambling and I’m like, well he’s not sacked yet so let me try to get over there just to get in his vision,” Winston said. “And I got close to the sideline and he made some guy miss – he’s great at extending plays – and he found me, so it was a nice scramble play.”

“First of all, when you’ve got a scramble, you design kind of the landmarks you want them to go, which I thought Easop did a very good job of because that’s exactly where he’s supposed to be,” Leach said.

Winston is not leading the Cougars in total receptions or receiving yards this season, but he has the reign on another significant category: touchdown catches. The City College of San Francisco transfer is up to four through four games after getting into the end zone twice on Friday.

He caught six passes for the second time in as many games and totaled 143 receiving yards to earn a spot on Pro Football Focus’ National Offensive Team of the Week.

“I think he’s just adjusted,” Leach said. “When he first got here, I think he got in shape. Then I think even though he played some junior college games, I think there’s just a different atmosphere here. Then I think as he’s gotten comfortable the first couple games, I think he’s really started to take off. I think he’s a really good player – runs great routes, very elusive and has great hands.”

Somewhat to Winston’s dismay at the time, WSU coaches decided to spend a redshirt season on the JC transfer in 2017. The Cougars were well-stocked at the outside receiver positions with Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack still on campus, and Winston, they felt, would benefit from a full season in WSU’s strength and conditioning program.

“I wanted to play, I’m not going to lie,” Winston said. “I wanted to play right away, but when I look back on it now it’s the best thing I could’ve done. I got to focus on my body, focus on my route running, just things I needed to do to get better as a player all in all.”

The production the Cougars are getting from Winston these days made it well worth the wait. He scored in his collegiate debut against Wyoming and he’s caught 18 passes for 212 yards through just one-third of his redshirt junior season.

“Man, I see the benefits of that definitely this year so it worked out for me well,” Winston said.

And it’s hard to imagine WSU’s breakout receiver will stop moving anytime soon.