WSU Cougars

Injury bug bites early, and often, for hurting WSU

PULLMAN – Washington State’s opening game is still two weeks away, so the Cougars aren’t hitting the panic button. It might not hurt to find out where the button is located, however.

Head football trainer Bill Drake said Friday that five potential starters are questionable for the Sept. 5 opener with Stanford.

The walking wounded include running back James Montgomery (sprained knee), wide receivers Jeshua Anderson (pulled hamstring) and Daniel Blackledge (strained glute), and linebackers Andy Mattingly (strained groin) and Alex Hoffman-Ellis (sore foot).

Drake said he expects Montgomery, a junior transfer from California, to miss one or two weeks of practice. Montgomery’s right knee took the brunt of a hard hit at Thursday afternoon’s practice but luckily wasn’t more seriously injured.

“It looks like he dodged a bullet,” Drake said.

QB battle at standstill

It has not been a simple task for coaches to decide on a starting quarterback. Still, offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy had a simple answer when asked if the battle between Kevin Lopina and Marshall Lobbestael is dead even: “Yep.”

Lopina started eight games last season, but Lobbestael made three straight starts before going down with a season-ending knee injury in the seventh game. He has shown no ill effects from the surgery.

“He’s doing really good,” Drake said. “His work this summer paid off. He worked hard. That underwater treadmill really helped.”

Youth making presence felt

With Hoffman-Ellis sidelined, true freshman Darren Markle has been playing middle linebacker with the No. 1 defense. Another true freshman, Travis Long, has been starting at defensive end.

Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball said Long hasn’t won the starting job yet, but his was the first name Ball came up with when asked to name the surprise player of fall camp.

“I had a good idea he was going to be a good player, but I didn’t know he’d be this good,” Ball said. “And (defensive tackle) Justin Clayton has been playing well as a true freshman.”

No matter how young the Cougars may be on defense, Ball and his players say they are certain they’ll be much better than last year’s porous crew.

“Everything’s coming together,” said Kevin Kooyman, a senior defensive end out of Tahoma High School. “Last year, it took us so long. … Mentally, we’re a lot tougher.”

Kooyman, who has nailed down a starting job one year after making six starts and registering just one sack, now carries 260 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame.

“I was a little guy,” Kooyman said with a smile. “I put on almost 20 pounds. Surprisingly, I do feel like I’m as fast if not faster than last year.”

Kooyman is one of a long list of Cougars players and coaches who rave about the off-season conditioning methods of head football strength coach Darin Lovat.

“He’s made a big difference with lifting and eating” (nutrition), Kooyman said.

Extra points

Sports Illustrated predicts the Cougars will go 0-9 in the Pac-10 and 2-10 overall. Kooyman’s prediction? “I definitely see us going to a bowl game.” … Junior Andrew Roxas, a guard-center who started eight games last year, remains sidelined with an undiagnosed illness. The Cougars are still waiting on some blood tests. … Sturdy said the Cougars still plan to redshirt true freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel and senior running back-kick returner Chantz Staden, but nothing is certain. Staden is coming off knee surgery, and WSU is well-stocked at running back. A number of players are being tried out as kickoff and/or punt returners, including true freshman Gino Simone. … The Cougars don’t plan to hold any full scrimmages besides the one last Saturday. … Today is the last day with two practices. Classes start Monday. … A team barbecue was held Friday, and the team will participate in the National Lentil Festival parade in downtown Pullman between practices today.