If it’s hard to remember the last time Washington State began a football camp without a quarterback competition as the most compelling storyline, that’s because it hasn’t happened in earnest since fall 2017, when Pac-12 career passing leader Luke Falk returned for his fourth year as Cougars starter.
The Cougars haven’t had a multiyear starter since Falk, but they may this fall if Jayden de Laura retains the job he won last October and held through the course of a truncated four-game 2020 season.
Either way, the quarterback battle will again be the predominant storyline when spring camp opens at 4 p.m. Thursday in Pullman.
Spring workouts will open without de Laura, who’s still serving a suspension from football activities after his DUI arrest in February. Second-year head coach Nick Rolovich didn’t offer any clues as to whether de Laura’s suspension would be lifted before the conclusion of spring camp, but he said, “I think in my head I have (made that decision).
“I’m anticipating I’ll continue to monitor that (situation).”
Nonetheless, de Laura’s indefinite absence from the team could open the door for his challengers – namely returning backup Cammon Cooper and Tennessee graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano. One is a fourth-year junior who spelled de Laura in two games last year and has a basic understanding of Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense principles. The other is a sixth-year senior who started in 41 SEC games, but relinquished his job midway through the 2020 season, throwing six touchdowns and four interceptions.
True freshman Xavier Ward, a three-star prospect from Corona, California, enrolled in classes in January and will take part in spring drills with the Cougars. He isn’t expected to be in the thick of the race for QB1 duties.
“This is a level of football where if you’re scared of competition, you’re probably not supposed to be here anyway,” Rolovich said. “So, we’ve got to play the best guy and win the most games, and that is the name of the game.”
The opportunities and reps won’t be scarce for the four QBs who will be practicing on Thursday and there also won’t be a shortage of wide receivers. WSU’s updated spring roster lists 19 receivers, including five new scholarship wideouts and walk-ons.
“We like to do production-based stuff,” Rolovich said. “Just want to make everyone get a good amount of reps. I think there will be a lot of throws spread around the guys who are playing or practicing. We’ll start at one place with the reps, but with the amount of people we have because of seniors coming back, it’s a good number for spring ball. So, you can do multiple huddles. We have plenty of space where you can have two groups going.
“I don’t think there will be any complaints about opportunity from any position the way we’ve got it lined up now.”
Whenever de Laura returns to the team, now or in the fall, Rolovich expects him to do so with the perspective of someone who gained experience and maturity from his mistake. The time that the Saint Louis High graduate has spent away from the team has been productive and meaningful, by all accounts.
“I would say incredibly,” Rolovich said, when asked how de Laura handled the aftermath of his off-field incident.
“It’s not something that he’s proud of, the incident. It’s not something the program stands for, but what I told him is how he deals with this could define the rest of his career, and I’m incredibly proud of his approach, taking the punishment and growing and maturing as a young man. That’s part of the job at this level. So far I’m pleased with his growth as a young man, in a lot of areas.”
Some of the names fans grew familiar with last fall are no longer listed on the updated WSU roster that was published Wednesday.
Among them was Spokane native and Mead High School product Lucas Bacon, a walk-on who started in all four games last year at “X” receiver, catching five passes for 57 yards and one touchdown.
Aside from those who’ve already announced their plans to enter the transfer portal, scholarship players who weren’t listed on the new roster include defensive backs Pat Nunn and Damion Lee and offensive linemen Jimmy Price and Julian Ripley.
Other nonscholarship players no longer with the team include linebacker Hank Pladson, defensive back Lamar Campbell, wide receiver Riley Jenkins and linebacker Bruce Seton.
The revised spring roster included an influx of new players, including three Power Five transfers: Guarantano (No. 18), former TCU linebacker Ben Wilson (No. 9) and ex-Michigan State defensive back Chris Jackson (No. 12).
The Cougars lost one walk-on from Spokane in Bacon but added another: prolific Mt. Spokane running back Kannon Katzer. One of the most dominant players in the history of the Greater Spokane League, Katzer opted out of the 2020 season after his mom died in an ATV accident, but he is joining the Cougars this fall.
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