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Sports >  WSU football

Searching for starters: Some Washington State position battles get an update, others remain unresolved

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 25, 2021

WSU running back Nakia Watson (25) runs the ball during a mini-scrimmage and practice at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, August 21, 2021.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
WSU running back Nakia Watson (25) runs the ball during a mini-scrimmage and practice at Gesa Field in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, August 21, 2021. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Quarterback isn’t the only skill position at Washington State featuring multiple players still jockeying for starts.

Cougars coach Nick Rolovich was asked Tuesday if any other spots – besides the one under center – remain up for grabs.

Not much progress has been made in appointing a starter at Z-receiver.

Lengthy transfer C.J. Moore and vastly improved program project Donovan Ollie have been vying for time with the first team since fall camp began, and it’s possible that race runs right up to the start of the season. Or maybe the two split reps this year.

“I think we can count on both of those guys,” Rolovich said.

Moore, a former four-star prospect and Oklahoma State Cowboy, stands 6-foot-4 and exhibits a wing span that should give him the upper hand on jump balls.

Ollie has been more consistent lately, in terms of drops. The 6-3, 210-pounder isn’t set apart by any one attribute; he’s got a well-rounded blend of physical tools, taking into account his speed, height and bulkiness.

Based on Rolovich’s comments Tuesday, it sounds like Hawaii transfer slot receiver Lincoln Victor could surprise some Pac-12 spectators.

Rolovich praised the junior’s mentality and burgeoning leadership qualities.

“He just brings so much competitiveness, so much desire,” Rolovich said of Victor, a reserve for the Rainbow Warriors from 2019-20. “I think he’s inspiring. He was a big addition when he got here in January for these guys. I think a lot of guys have latched onto him.”

Victor has perhaps already climbed into WSU’s No. 3 inside receiver role. He’ll presumably be playing behind either Travell Harris or Calvin Jackson Jr.

At running back, WSU is running into questions. Not in the negative sense, though.

The Cougs aren’t sure how they’ll divvy up the carries. Of course, NFL-caliber senior Max Borghi is the first man up. But Deon McIntosh – a Notre Dame transfer who sparkled for the Cougs last season – has suddenly found himself in a struggle for reps with Wisconsin transplant Nakia Watson.

“How are we gonna get all the running backs touches that deserve it?” Rolovich pondered aloud.

The 5-11, 230-pound Watson, a former four-star prep recruit, prides himself on his power-game capacities, but he’s not a shabby cutter or open-field runner by any stretch.

“A great addition has been Nakia,” offensive coordinator Brian Smith said Saturday. “He’s made our running back room a lot better and our depth a whole lot stronger. We’re excited about having someone with a little different style of play than some of the other guys.”

The first group in the trenches appears to be settled. Considering last week’s rep counts, it looks like junior Cade Beresford (6-7, 300 pounds) has beaten out sophomore Rodrick Tialavea for right guard.

The vet-laden Cougar defense was a bit easier to sort out. Only one starting role was truly up in the air.

Junior Halid Djibril and grad student George Hicks III – who flipped from corner to safety this camp – are still locked in a competition for free safety.

Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert hinted Saturday after WSU’s second scrimmage that it might come down to the wire. Free safety was one of the primary positions highlighted for evaluation.

“We’re really gonna have to watch the tape at free safety today,” Dickert said after the scrimmage. “There were some breakout tackles, some we made, some we missed. It’s gonna be one of the biggest things. I think both those guys are good coverage guys.”

The Cougars will begin transitioning out of their fall camp routine and “start up a little bit” on game preparation Wednesday, Rolovich said. They open their season Sept. 4 at home against Utah State.

“We’ll introduce Utah State to the team tomorrow and then move on from there,” he said.

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