If nothing else, the youngsters on the Washington State football roster have plenty of mentors. Their coach just hopes they have attentive eyes and ears.
With the NCAA granting 2020 seniors an extra year of eligibility because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Cougar roster now has 17 final-year players, including five entering their sixth seasons.
So coach Nick Rolovich thinks freshmen should usually have answers to their questions. New running back Kannon Katzer, for example, can pick the brains of seniors Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh, who have combined for 1,713 rushing yards and 158 receptions.
The advantage for Katzer?
“That’s up to him, how much he takes in and absorbs from them,” Rolovich said Saturday in a Zoom news conference after the Cougars’ second spring scrimmage.
“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. So that would be on Kannon and (sophomore running back Jouvensly Bazil) — that would be on all of them.”
Katzer rushed for 51 yards, and Borghi and McIntosh teamed for another 44 to lead a ground game that, in Rolo’s mind, was the offensive high point.
As for quarterbacks Camm Cooper and Jarrett Guarantano, “They both kept drives going off-script — that was the one thing they both showed the ability to do,” Rolovich said. “I’ll bet we weren’t as efficient (in the coaches’ grading system) as last Saturday at the quarterback position.”
One reason? The running backs aren’t the only well-seasoned players on the team.
The linebackers, for example, include three of the team’s five sixth-year seniors: Jahad Woods, Justus Rogers and Dillon Sherman (the others are receiver Renard Bell and offensive lineman Liam Ryan). To get a picture of how long they’ve been around, they drilled as first-year players against Luke Falk, Tyler Hilinski and Gabe Marks.
Of the team’s 2020 seniors, the Cougars lost punter Oscar Draguicevich III to NFL aspirations and running back Clay Markoff to the NCAA transfer portal. But only one contributing senior, offensive lineman Josh Watson, decided to walk away from football.
At the news conference, the stoic Rogers cracked a smile when introduced as a “17th-year senior.”
“We had really good energy,” he said after tallying two of the defense’s seven sacks in the scrimmage that lasted around 80 plays. “We took the momentum we had when we made a few plays at the beginning and just kept rolling with it. When (the offense) started making big plays, (we wanted) to stay composed and stay positive and don’t let that bring our energy down. I think we did a good job of that today.”
On both sides of the ball, Rolovich notices the seniors’ influence. In particular, he sees improvement in certain intangibles that had drawn his concern during a pandemic-racked 1-3 season last year.
“We’re seeing this team slowly hardening up — they are less fragile,” the coach said. “The offense probably had their best day of camp on Thursday. We challenged the defense (after that practice) and the defense came out (for the scrimmage) with some great energy from start to finish.”
RUSHING — Kannon Katzer 5-51, Max Borghi 3-23, Deon McIntosh 2-21, Lincoln Victor 2-(-7), Peni Naulu 1-6.
PASSING — Jarrett Guarantano 7-13-87-1-0, Victor Gabalis 5-9-78-0-1, Cammon Cooper 7-12-82-1-0, Xavier Ward 6-11-48-0-0.
RECEIVING — McIntosh 4-54, De’Zhaun Stribling 3-66, Victor 3-45, Mitchell Quinn 3-39, Renard Bell 2-19, Drake Owen 2-15, Naulu 2-14, Jasiah Richard-Lewis 1-14, Jay Wilkerson 1-9, Travell Harris 1-7, Joey Hobart 1-6, Zion Lucia 1-6, Katzer 1-1.
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