Cougars testing out sophomore centers

The Spokesman-ReviewApril 19, 2014 

PULLMAN — Elliott Bosch, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound giant, invited Connor Halliday to a round of golf, and suddenly transferring to Spokane’s Ferris High School from familiar Lewis and Clark wasn’t quite as intimidating for the toothpick-thin quarterback.

Bosch had Halliday’s back from then on. The pair went to Washington State, and last season, the quarterback never touched a ball unless Bosch snapped it to him.

But Bosch won’t be at center for what should be Halliday’s defining season, having since graduated and leaving Riley Sorenson and Sam Flor to compete for the right to replace the quarterback’s most trusted teammate.

“It just helped a lot knowing (Bosch) knows my personality and stuff, and I’ll maybe snap here or there, but … the next play it’s over and we go with it,” Halliday said. “That’s what we’re working with those two new guys is kind of getting them used to me, and me used to them.”

This spring, Sorenson and Flor, both sophomores, are receiving a crash course in what Halliday says is the offensive line’s most important position.

The WSU center not only delivers the ball to Halliday 70 or more times per game before immediately blocking the other team’s interior defensive lineman, but he must be the leader of the offensive line, directing the unit while changing blocking assignments on the fly.

“You have to be smart. You have to have a quick first step,” offensive line coach Clay McGuire said. “In our offense, the centers call the fronts and kind of direct everything.”

So far, neither Flor nor Sorenson has gained the upper hand. Though the coaches and Halliday acknowledge that they would like to name a starter as soon as possible, McGuire says he’s ready to wait until the day before the Aug. 28 season opener against Rutgers if need be.

Though the two linemen have different skill sets, their level of skill is comparable.

“I’d say Sam probably has a little bit more experience, is probably a little bit more efficient and faster calling fronts and everything,” McGuire said. “Right now, Riley might have a little more pop off the ball.”

They are splitting reps and alternating days to decide who will have the first crack at the starting unit.

“We take the same amount of reps per practice,” Sorenson said. “Say he gets to go the first six repetitions with the ones, then I’ll go the second six. We just switch off so it’s not really that big of a difference.”

The offensive line as a whole is young, with no seniors and two returning starters. With inexperience has come mistakes, and coach Mike Leach occasionally has stopped practice to direct his unhappiness towards the offensive line.

The unit is in its formative stages, and going against the Cougars’ defensive line with veterans such as senior Kalafitoni Pole and junior Xavier Cooper (Wilson High School) has exposed the need for rapid improvement, particularly along the interior.

But experience has accelerated improvement and given the young offensive line a taste of what it can expect.

“Those are probably some of the best defensive linemen in the Pac-12, if not the entire country,” Flor said. “Those are big boys … fast guys. I think I compete pretty well with them, just getting better, and that will make me more prepared for the season.”

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