PULLMAN - Mike Ledgerwood and Marshall Lobbestael are familiar with pain. Almost all college football players are.
Physical pain? They’ve learned how to deal with it.
Mental pain? Well, when you’ve won just five of 37 games in three seasons at Washington State, the mental anguish has been overwhelming for seniors like Ledgerwood and Lobbestael.
The only solution is winning.
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While optimism is rampant at spring football practices all across the country, WSU players and coaches are adamant that the Cougars are primed to rebound this fall.
“We’re a big step ahead of where we were at the same time (last year),” Lobbestael said.
“You can’t ask for anything better, just the overall improvement. Everyone is working hard,” Ledgerwood said. “The ‘want-to,’ how the team is improving, how we’re following Coach Wulff’s path.”
Paul Wulff, his job clearly on the line in his fourth year on the job, says the Cougars are “obviously” a lot better than a year ago.
Injuries have impacted WSU’s improved depth and experience, but the Cougars plan to present a much-improved product when they wrap up spring drills with a scrimmage at 3 p.m. Saturday at Spokane’s Albi Stadium.
“We’ve been through a lot the past couple years,” said Ledgerwood, a linebacker from River View High School in Finley near the Tri-Cities. “We don’t want to go through that crap again. It’s a horrible feeling.”
Not that a 2-10 season in 2010 or a 1-11 campaign in 2009 were filled with joy, but few seasons in WSU history were more painful for players and fans than the 2-11 disaster of 2008. Humiliating scores were the norm, and more than a few Cougars displayed even less heart than skill.
“That was the toughest sports year I’ve ever been through in my entire life, and I’ve been through some bad ones,” said Lobbestael, a quarterback from Oak Harbor High.
“My sophomore year in (high school) basketball, we started four sophomores and went 0-20 that year, and that redshirt freshman year was worse.”
Unlike Lobbestael, Ledgerwood was forced into action as a true freshman. It is a sign of WSU’s progress that Ledgerwood and Lobbestael, who have both started at times in the past, figure to play reserve roles this season.
Both seniors seem comfortable with their new responsibilities. They’ll be even more comfortable if their reward for hanging tough through three miserable seasons is a bowl game after this season.
“That’s all I want,” Ledgerwood said. “That’s all that’s on everyone’s mind I want the Pac-12 championship and a bowl game.”
“Our goal is to win (at least) the North Division the bowl game, that’s going to happen along with the division title,” Lobbestael said.
WSU players and coaches have spoken with optimism prior to each of the past three seasons. Lobbestael admits that spring practices among teammates, with limited contact and whatnot, does not always provide an accurate picture of what lies ahead.
Still, there are obvious signs of improvement in speed and depth.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel is now a battle-tested junior, and his receiver corps is loaded with speed and talent.
Redshirt freshman Rickey Galvin is an exciting addition at running back. The defense and the offensive line, two glaring weak spots in recent years, gained much-needed experience last season.
“We’re practicing better than we ever have here,” Lobbestael said.
“The defense is doing great,” Ledgerwood said. “We’ve been improving every day.”
“We’re about to take a step and do some special things,” Lobbestael said. “I feel like we’re on the verge of turning the program around.”