PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars, like virtually every other college football team in the country, radiated optimism after the first day of practice. After all, everyone is still undefeated.
The difference at WSU is that at least one key player hasn’t ruled out the possibility of the Cougars still being undefeated at season’s end.
“I’d like to go undefeated. We like to set our goals high,” junior offensive tackle John Fullington said after WSU opened fall camp Thursday afternoon.
Fullington, the former North Mason High School standout, was not alone in revealing lofty goals after practice.
“Our goal (this season) is a bowl game – and one day play for a national championship,” defensive tackle Xavier Cooper said.
One can certainly understand why Cooper would be amped up. When the Cougars open the season Aug. 30 at BYU, Cooper might be starting in the first football game he’s played in since his senior year at Foss High in 2009.
“It’s exciting for me and my family back home,” said Cooper, who said he is doing well in class after fighting to gain academic eligibility. “They’ve been waiting a long time for me to get on the field.
“It’s a good thing. I’m blessed to be here with the Cougs.”
WSU’s new coaching staff required far more running in offseason training than the previous staff did. Receivers and defensive backs constantly ran deep routes Thursday on a hot afternoon.
“Honestly, every friend I have that goes to a Division I school could not have made it today in our workout,” junior linebacker Eric Oertel said. “We’re definitely a lot better, bigger, faster and stronger.”
Head coach Mike Leach said he was generally impressed with the conditioning and play of his squad.
“We had good intensity,” Leach said. “It was a typical day one from the standpoint that guys would go out and try to make too much happen, try to be super on every play.”
Junior cornerback Nolan Washington, who intercepted two passes during practice, seconded Fullington’s opinion that the Cougars are more confident this year.
“We’re very comfortable with the new coaches,” said Washington, a Kennedy High graduate. “We like these coaches; we love ’em.
“They’re just like us. They’re very confident. They bring a new swagger to Cougar football. I think people will see that on Saturdays.”
“We come in knowing we’re going to win every game,” Fullington said. “We’re not just going to compete; we’re going there to win.”
Leach couldn’t agree more, though his stated goals for the season are a bit more tame than those of some of his players.
“Do the best we can and hopefully win one game a week,” he said.
Quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball well after missing most of spring ball while recovering from a lacerated liver suffered late last season. “In spring ball, I was putting on a pretty good front,” Halliday said. “I was having trouble just walking around. I feel great now.” … Senior Travis Long, making the move from defensive end to buck linebacker (an end-linebacker hybrid), said “it’s been a pretty easy transition.”