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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Meet the two WSU freshman RBs who will get real playing time against ASU

PULLMAN – Djouvensky Schlenbaker tried to play it cool.

Washington State’s redshirt freshman running back had just demonstrated a compelling, physical style of running during his team’s scrimmage, and as the August sun shone on his face, it was clear how much he was enjoying this stage.

“Shoot, I ain’t gonna lie. It’s always fun hitting people,” Schlenbaker said. “When it’s live, that really shows who’s gonna be able to hit you, tackle you all the time. So every time when I get my opportunity, I just try to hit someone back, because they’re always tackling me, so I get the chance of hitting them to the ground, too.”

At the time, Schlenbaker understood his time might come later. He was an underclassman, and above him on the depth chart were several running backs: starter Nakia Watson, scatback Jaylen Jenkins, maybe even walk-on Dylan Paine. There was a reason Schlenbaker got so much playing time at the fall camp scrimmage.

How quickly things change. Jenkins has been dismissed from the team because of a violation of team rules, WSU coach Jake Dickert said Monday. On Wednesday, Dickert said that Paine, who took Jenkins’ spot in the team’s loss to Oregon last weekend, was sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.

That means Schlenbaker gets to play in the backfield alongside Watson. They may even be joined by true freshman Leo Pulalasi, who has also moved up the depth chart. As Washington State tries to end a three-game losing streak at Arizona State on Saturday, its rushing attack will include two guys whose only action this season came in a romp over an FCS foe.

“Djouvensky’s ready,” Dickert said Wednesday. “Leo is getting ready himself.”

Schlenbaker, who figures to get the most snaps of the two freshmen, hails from Bellingham. A member of the Cougars’ 2022 class, he fielded offers from the likes of Washington, California, Colorado, Nevada, Virginia Tech and Air Force. In June 2021, when he committed to WSU, he tweeted:

“Get ready, I’ve got some big goals to knock off in the future wearing gray and crimson. I can’t wait to get on the field.”

His first opportunity to do so this season arrived last month, when WSU raced to a big lead over Northern Colorado. When the Cougars put things out of reach, Schlenbaker came in for four rushes for 41 yards, with a long of 20. He also had one carry for 4 yards in WSU’s season-opening rout over Colorado State.

His chances to shine have been limited, but in fall camp, he showed what kind of running back he is – a physical runner who never shies away from contact. He made that clear in practices, in scrimmages, in interviews, when he said it himself.

He’s done the same on the field, in real reps that count. In the fourth quarter of that Northern Colorado win, he took a shotgun handoff to his right, where he met multiple defenders. He swung it around to the left, where he saw a lane and surged through, racing to the 38, a 13-yard rush.

Schlenbaker’s biggest highlight, though, came in early in the third quarter. He took another shotgun handoff and bolted through the left side, past several key blocks and into the open field, where he rushed 20 yards before he went to the ground.

Only a few moments later, Pulalasi did something similar . He lined up a few yards behind quarterback Emmett Brown, took the handoff and sprinted to his right, angled left inside a lane, juked left to make one guy miss, when a Northern Colorado defender met him.

More accurately, Pulalasi met him. He lowered his shoulder and bowled over the linebacker, falling to the ground for a gain of double digits.

He made a habit of it in that game. In the fourth quarter, he broke off a 15-yarder, jumping to the second level with a quick burst, going down only when a Bears defender slung him to the ground near midfield.

In that way, Pulalasi is made in the same mold as Schlenbaker, a 6-foot-2 physical back – but his journey to Washington State charted a different path. Pulalasi had offers from Portland State, Nevada, Colorado State, Army, Montana State and Montana, but he chose BYU. He committed in April 2022, a month before completing his junior year at Lakes High in Tacoma.

Two months later, he received an offer from Oregon State. Washington State offered the same day. Two months later, he flipped to WSU.

“He’s a physical runner,” 247 Sports national recruiting director Brandon Huffman wrote of Pulalasi. “He gets plenty of yards after contact and is a consistent tackle-breaker.”

Schlenbaker and Pulalasi share lots in common. They’re both young guys, both physical backs, both bigger players, both waiting their turn. In the August scrimmage, Schlenbaker and Pulalasi hung out on the sidelines next to each other, trading knowledge and tips.

To escape the Pac-12’s cellar of running offense, where Pro Football Focus slotted WSU ahead of this weekend’s action, Washington State will need something from its two freshman running backs.