On social media and Washington State football message boards, Cougars fans spent last fall wondering about Keith Harrington’s whereabouts.
Harrington was missing from practices and not standing on the sidelines during games, causing fans to wonder whether he was still a member of the team.
For Harrington, who was rehabbing a leg injury, the speculation was annoying but did not take too much of a toll, he said.
“You just kind of ignore the noise. There’s people saying this and that and you see it on Twitter or online, I just don’t let it get to me,” Harrington said. “It’s about what can I do for me to be the best player I can for my teammates.”
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Harrington is nearly 100 percent now and is a full participant in WSU’s spring practices. That’s good for the Cougars, especially since Gerard Wicks has thus far missed the spring with an undisclosed injury of his own.
Part of what fueled rumors that Harrington might leave WSU was fans’ knowledge that the Cougars intend to regularly play three running backs. With the emergence of James Williams alongside Wicks and Jamal Morrow last season, it seemed logical to think Harrington might feel like the odd man out.
Running backs coach Jim Mastro says anyone who would think so does not understand Harrington.
“He’s just what you want, man, he’s the most competitive kid of the four,” Mastro said. “A lot of guys would have felt sorry for themselves or hung their head and moped. He worked harder.”
Harrington was a charter member of the corps of running backs who in many ways were the first unit to fully buy into coach Mike Leach’s program. Harrington, Wicks and Morrow had to believe they could get touches in an offense known for passing, and that splitting time with two other backs would benefit each member of the trio.
Harrington carved out a role as a playmaker during the 2015 season, ranking fourth on the team with 43 catches for 312 yards and three scores, while rushing 37 times for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
He was recruited to WSU from St. Petersburg, Florida, to play wide receiver and briefly went back to the position last year before his injury. But this spring he is playing running back, and making plays just like in 2015.
“The energy he brings and confidence he brings helps the whole morale of the room,” Morrow said. “When he’s out here, everybody’s got energy and everybody’s ready to play.”
He, Wicks and Morrow formed a tight-knit culture built upon competition but also brotherhood, one that Williams has assimilated into. Mastro believes the culture they have created will influence future running backs to take the same team-first mentality.
“It’s been the most fun two-to-three years I’ve had in coaching, going with these guys,” Mastro said.
And the coaches have repaid the running backs for their belief by making them the centerpiece of the Air Raid offense, stereotypes be damned. Last year, Morrow, Wicks and Williams combined to rush for 1,645 yards and 22 touchdowns and added another 1,014 yards and seven scores through the air.
Not only did that production serve the Cougars well on the field, it inspired a teammate who had to sit and watch it happen.
“It’s definitely motivation, especially with the running backs we’ve got now,” Harrington said. “They’re beyond studs. So just sitting back and watching them make plays makes me motivated to want to play with them.”