Spring practice for football is underway on the campus of Washington State University, and perhaps the sharp, biting winds and occasional hail showers for the first practice are a sharp metaphor for the head coaching tenure of Paul Wulff: full of unsettled times. The understatement of the century might be that Wulff's tenure at this university might be that he has encountered some troubled times with his players both on the field and off. The injuries and lack of execution on the field and the poor grades and numerous arrests off it have contributed to a tumultuous two seasons.
Countless times, I've naively given many Cougar fans reasons for hope; reasons to get excited about Cougar football. To be perfectly honest, it's been a number of times; of course you don't have to be told that. You know I've been made to look like an idiot multiple times. Luckily, I'm not too proud of a man to admit that I'm not always correct (although, ironically, that just feeds the ego a bit). Now I'm approaching anything in regards to this team with caution. I'm no longer asking you to be excited about Cougar football or to even be hopeful but merely to be somewhat encouraged. Because really, I don't want to get burned again by a team that I truly care about so much.
After the first day of practice, one thing really stood out to me: the players have become bigger. Definitely not to the incredible extent that may would've hoped but the transformation into Arnold Schwarzenegger during his days competing for Mr. Universe. But the size increase is noticeable on many players: Jeff Tuel looks more filled out as Jared Karstetter continues to get bigger. Perhaps most surprisingly of all was the filling out and maturity of Terrance Hayward on the defensive side of the ball as the young man just looks bigger. New JC defensive lineman Brandon Rankin came into school looking like an absolute specimen on the defensive line and fellow defensive lineman Travis Long looks like he certainly added some muscle. On the offensive line, Wade Jacobsen and David Gonzalez look like they are as big and as good as advertised. Even though it might not be important now, Sebastian Valenzuela looks to have dropped quite a few pounds from the somewhat healthy gut he was carrying last year.
All that extra weight (or in some cases, less weight) will be put to good use by the coaches, especially the newcomers in assistant coaches Steve Morton and Dave Ungerer. After just a brief observation on both of their coaching styles on the field, put me in their fan clubs. During stretch times, Morton walks between columns of his offensive linemen, barking out commands and yelling out what seems to be life lessons. He seems like a polite drill sergeant. But he's not just raising his voice to players; he's also giving out encouragement, a delicate balance he seems to do perfectly.
Meanwhile, Ungerer might seem to have the fire lit under him that the running backs and for that matter the entire team needs. He is not afraid to get in your face and tell you what you did wrong and that certainly grabs your attention. I remain thankful that he's not one of my teachers, mostly because I don't know how to really respond to that kind of coaching. But it seems like his players do because he, much like Morton, spends a lot of time with the players coaching them up and making sure they know what he wants. All players at the positions at which they coach are in good hands with them at the helm.
Am I asking you to get excited? No, because getting excited would generally mean you're looking towards a season that features more wins than losses if not at least an even number. Getting excited would mean this team stands a legitimate chance, as constructed, to compete for a top five spot in the conference. Merely, I'm asking you to be encouraged by the new members of this coaching staff and the changes the players have made over the off-season. Spring practice don't mean too terribly much when it comes to offensive and defensive execution but it means a lot to those of us who want to see the difference a winter in the weight room has made on these players. Be encouraged by the changes these players have made and the new coaches that are in charge of their football education.
If I'm wrong, completely forget I said anything whatsoever. Makes me feel a lot better about myself.
Guess what! It's time for the return of the ever-popular Who Cares Pick of the Week! Alright, so it wasn't that popular and mainly another forum for me to complain about crappy sports. Whatever!
Who Cares Pick of the Week: George St. Pierre to win UFC 111. Does anybody really still care about this boxing/wrestling hybrid anymore?
Dunderhead of the Week: The nice folks at the grad fair (where seniors go to get graduation stuff in order) who pulled up my expected degree and misread it as "Bachelor of Arts in Communi-cat-ication". Apparently, they didn't receive their degree in the equally good, if not better Communication.
+++++++sponsored by Greg Davis Sports Photography+++++++++
The new year is here and you know what that means It's time for a whole new season of Cougar Athletics! Men's & women's basketball, baseball, track & field and tennis, just to name a few, are coming up right around the corner. If you need "game action" photographs for your newspaper, magazine, web site, blog, etc., then Greg Davis Sports Photography should be your choice for all things "Cougar" and "Pac-10 Conference"! Coverage for specific athletes or upcoming events is also available. Check out the images from games, practices and events from last season, and be sure to come back often for uploads from all of this season's action.