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Saturday, October 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  NCAA

‘This is why I’m here.’ As high-profile Pac-12 players opted out, Washington State’s Max Borghi never wavered

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 14, 2020

Washington State running back Max Borghi (left) visits with quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann during the Cougars’ practice  (Washington State Athletics/Courtesy)
Washington State running back Max Borghi (left) visits with quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann during the Cougars’ practice (Washington State Athletics/Courtesy)

For about a month, Oregon football fans stumbled on one piece of crushing news after another whenever they opened social media. Or, it must have felt that way.

First, it was Outland Trophy winning tackle Penei Sewell, then standout cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, followed by another cornerback, Thomas Graham Jr., Jevon Holland and eventually Brady Breeze.

It spread elsewhere in the Pac-12 North: Levi Onwuzurike and Joe Tryon of Washington, Walker Little and Paulson Adebo of Stanford.

Washington State fans had to be skittish. When would all-conference running back Max Borghi join the laundry list of high-profile Pac-12 football players opting out of the 2020 season to get a head start on NFL Draft prep?

In truth, those who watch Borghi play on TV probably pondered that idea more than the running back himself.

“No, I only ever considered opting in when everything was going wrong,” Borghi said. “I was like, I want to play. This is why I’m here and I love football and I want to play no matter what it takes.”

No, Borghi isn’t garnering the same pre-Draft buzz as Oregon’s Sewell, UW’s Onwuzurike or many of the other premier Pac-12 opt outs, but Borghi, with 2,154 all-purpose yards and 28 touchdowns, could’ve followed in their footsteps without getting mush pushback.

It wouldn’t have hurt to consult a few family members or coaches, right? Borghi, the only Power Five football player in 2019 with 800 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and at least 16 TDs, says he didn’t even get that far in the process.

“I made that decision on my own,” Borghi said, reiterating “I love the game of football, I would never opt out.”

It’s all irrelevant now, because one way or the other, Borghi is back – his bruising runs, high hurdles and seemingly endless production – and after a nine-month layoff, the junior has been starving to strap on football pads and bulldoze through something not wearing a gray helmet or crimson pants.

Borghi has been monitoring the college football season, with a keen interest in what’s taken place at Mississippi State, which poached ex-WSU boss Mike Leach and seven of his assistants in January. As a consumer of the game, Borghi is overjoyed to have college football back in his life. He takes in the NFL on Sunday, too.

But as a competitor, games in the Big-12, ACC and SEC have also been a source of jealousy and frustration.

“I love football, so I tend to want to watch it, but I also get (expletive) off when I’m watching it because I know I should be out on the field playing the same day. It goes both ways, but it’s been interesting to watch different teams throughout the country and different running backs. … As well as Mike Leach and the Air Raid in the SEC, that’s been fun to watch.

“I watch a lot of football, a lot of NFL too. But no one really loves football if you should be out there playing.”

Borghi and the Cougars have a chance to remedy that in the season opener, Nov. 7 at Oregon State. An all-purpose back who fit seamlessly into Leach’s Air Raid will be asked to take on a different role this year, playing in Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot.

“What excites you the most about this new offense?” Pac-12 Networks host Ashley Adamson asked Borghi.

“Running the ball, obviously,” Borghi responded. “The run-and-shoot is definitely different from Mike Leach’s Air Raid, so I’m excited for just the different concepts of run reads that I have, some power, some outside zone and different types of speed option stuff. It’s going to be exciting, It’s going to be a lot more explosive.

“I’m excited for myself in it and for the rest of the running backs. I think we’re really going to enjoy (it).”

For a player who hopes to climb a few rounds on NFL Draft boards by demonstrating he can thrive as a run-first tailback, Borghi should view the 2020 season as a blank canvas.

In his first two seasons with the Cougars, Borghi had 199 rushing attempts. Comparatively, Hawaii’s leading rusher, Miles Reed had 174 carries in 2019 alone. Reed had only three receptions to Borghi’s 86, but the WSU junior is willing to sacrifice if it means offering glimpses of his prowess as a rusher.

As a senior at Pomona High School, Borghi was named Colorado’s most outstanding football player after rushing for 1,690 yards and seven touchdowns, with seven 100-yard rushing efforts.

“I’m grateful for what I did the last two years, I think it was good to get some film of me catching the ball, and still run it a little bit,” Borghi said. “But now this is my year to prove who I am and prove why I’m a running back and what I’m capable of. I’m definitely interested to do all these run schemes, because I know I’m a great runner and I know I can prove it to the whole country.

“I just need the opportunity.”

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