PULLMAN – It’s now been three years since Washington State’s annual spring scrimmage was held at Joe Albi Stadium, but the Crimson and Gray game still had a tinge of Spokane to it on Saturday.
Kannon Katzer, who rewrote GSL record books during his time at Mt. Spokane High, may not be the first, second or third option in WSU’s backfield this fall, but the freshman walk-on made the most of a unique opportunity on Saturday – and may have given Cougar fans something to look forward to years down the road.
With all-conference running back Max Borghi and three different backups – Jouvensly Bazil, Peni Naulu and Cole Dubots – unavailable to play in the scrimmage, Katzer was the beneficiary of additional carries, and led the Cougars in rushing attempts (9), yards (71) and touchdowns (2).
On his first touchdown, Katzer took an inside handoff from quarterback Victor Gabalis, split two defenders and squirted outside before crossing the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown. On the second, he stutter-stepped through a crowd of white jerseys in the backfield, bounced to the edge, picked up a block from wide receiver Travell Harris and held off two tacklers before diving to the end zone.
“He’s very dynamic, a little guy that can get out of there and break a lot of tackles,” Harris said. “I told him, he’s done an awesome job today showcasing his skills and his abilities.”
Katzer will most likely fit somewhere behind at least Borghi, McIntosh and Bazil on WSU’s depth chart this fall, but Saturday marked his first opportunity as a college football player to demonstrate his abilities in a game setting – something that may have felt like a long time coming for the Spokane native.
On Aug. 29, 2020, Katzer tragically lost his mother to an ATV accident. As many others did during a COVID-19-impacted season, the ex-Washington 3A Player of the Year opted out of playing last fall and returned to the Cougars this spring.
“I knew about his mom, we had talks. It can’t be easy for anybody, but for him to battle through and do what he’s done through 13 practices, get out here in Martin Stadium and I think he scored twice,” Rolovich said. “It had to feel good. I hope he’s proud of himself, I know she’s looking down proud of him and hope he goes and hugs his family a little bit after this.”
Katzer rushed 247 times for 2,543 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior at Mt. Spokane and finished the year with 3,171 all-purpose yards and 39 total touchdowns. He initially committed to Riverside City College, a JC powerhouse in California, before reconsidering and accepting a walk-on offer from Rolovich and the Cougars.
In many ways, Katzer’s timing couldn’t be better. The freshman will have a chance to learn under the tutelage of Borghi, a preseason All-Pac-12 First Team selection in 2020, and returning senior Deon McIntosh, who started for the Cougars last fall when Borghi suffered a back injury.
Asked earlier in the week about the opportunity in front of Katzer, Rolovich said, “that’s up to him, how much he takes in and absorbs from them.”
“I don’t know that there’s many better positions to be in, as far as soaking up knowledge and being around people who have high aspirations for themselves and their career but also attack it the right way,” the coach added. “So that would be on Kannon and (Bazil) — that would be on all of them.”
Fun and games
The Cougars got down to business when they needed to, but Saturday’s spring game wasn’t necessarily all business.
Rather than a traditional coin toss, the scrimmage opened with a long snapper duel in which Simon Samarzich and Tyler Williams lined up nearly 25 feet apart and tried to snap a ball through the other’s legs. Samarzich got it done on the first try, earning the crimson team (offense) three points.
As players filed out of the tunnel and onto the field, they were greeted by jumbotron introductions from renowned boxing and MMA announcers Michael and Bruce Buffer, who delivered customized WSU-specific messages through the popular Cameo app.
“Fans, let’s make some noise, let’s hear it for the the Crimson team,” Michael Buffer said in his announcement. “Let’s get ready to ruuuumble!”
The school also paid for a Cameo appearance from WSU alum and actor Dolph Lundgren, who encouraged the Cougars to “play hard, be tough, be a Cougar or … I must break you.” Cameo videos from NBA legend Dikembe Mutombo and Christopher McDonald, the actor behind Happy Gilmore’s Shooter McGavin, were shown on the video board throughout the scrimmage.
The scrimmage featured halftime entertainment from WSU recruiting assistant and guitar aficionado Marco Regalado and when the game action ended, coaches parked ice coolers containing water balloons around the field and a nearly five-minute water balloon fight took place between offensive and defensive players.
“It was awesome, awesome, great team bonding,” Harris said. “Just out there to have fun. That’s what we came out to do, have fun, put on a show for the fans and just enjoy spring ball.”
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