August 29, 1997
PULLMAN, Wash. - Washington State head football coach Mike Price doesn't expect to spend much time teaching football 101 when fall camp opens next August. This fall's squad will be at the 400 level with 15 starters among 43 letterwinners returning for the 1997 season.
"This year we will start fall camp with just five players among our top 44 who have not played a down for us," says Price. "A year ago, when I watched us lineup at Colorado to open the season, there were 30 players on the 60-man travel squad who had not played a down for WSU."
The Cougs, coming off a 5-6 campaign that was 5-2 at midseason, jumps into the Pacific-10 Conference season with a pair of crucial league games to start the season.
First comes UCLA August 31 in a regional ABC television game from Pullman. Two weeks later, after the first of two byes, WSU travels to Los Angeles to take on the USC Trojans.
Price rates the two Los Angeles schools among those to beat in the Pac-10 race to the Rose Bowl. "You have to start with Arizona State, even though they lost a great quarterback and several other great players. UCLA and USC are always going to be strong," offers Price, preparing for his ninth season at WSU.
WSU STARTERS RETURNING
Defense: DE Dorian Boose, DT Gary Holmes, DT Leon Bender, DE Shane Doyle, LB Brandon Moore, CB Dee Moronkola, SS Duane Stewart, P Jeff Banks.
Offense: OG Jason McEndoo, C Cory Withrow, OT Ryan McShane, WR Shawn Tims, QB Ryan Leaf, RB Michael Black, WR Shawn McWashington.
The Cougars will be a senior dominated club, with 24 of the 43 lettermen preparing for their final collegiate season. The squad breakdown includes 22 offensive letterwinners, 20 on defense, plus one kicker. Of the 15 returning starters, 12 are seniors.
Heading the list of returning offensive starters are three linemen, two receivers and a pair of backfield stars, giving Price and his staff a solid nucleus. Four started all 11 games last fall and the other three had at least eight starts.
In recent years the Cougars have developed a reputation for developing outstanding quarterbacks. The list of ex-Cougs who went on to the NFL included Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Timm Rosenbach and Drew Bledsoe.
Junior Ryan Leaf (6-5, 240, 11 starts) could be the next WSU quarterback to move on to the NFL. Last year he set a WSU passing record for sophomores while finishing third on the school's one-season list with 2,811 yards passing.
Up front Leaf will depend on center Cory Withrow (6-4, 275, senior, 11 starts) and guard Jason McEndoo (6-5, 300, senior, 11 starts) to anchor the line. Ryan McShane (6-7, 305, senior, nine starts) is also expected back at tackle, although he missed spring drills while recovering from shoulder surgery.
WSU STARTERS LOST
Defense: LB James Darling, LB Johnny Nansen, FS Derek Henderson, CB Shad Hinchen.
Offense: WR Chad Carpenter, OT Scott Sanderson, OG Bryan Chiu, TE David Knuff.
Michael Black (6-0, 206, senior, nine starts), who rushed for 948 yards in 10 games last year to rank third in the Pac-10, returns and will be even more involved in WSU's offense this year.
"Michael isn't a rookie any more, so we will be getting the ball to him more and that will take some heat off Leaf," Price says.
WSU's experienced receiving corps is also expected to be a big plus for Leaf, including a pair of starters, Shawn Tims (5-11, 183, senior, 11 starts) and Shawn McWashington (5-11, 190, senior, eight starts).
Veterans Nian Taylor (6-2, 193, junior), and seniors Chris Jackson (6-2, 204, three starts) and Kevin McKenzie (5-10, 180) are also slated to see considerable playing time as receivers. "We have a chance to have four quality receivers on the field at any one time and Taylor has the potential to be one of WSU's best."
At tight end, the battle is expected to be between senior Jon Kincaid (6-5, 254) and junior Love Jefferson (6-2, 255). Kincaid broke an ankle last fall and missed spring drills, so his status is still in question.
Defensively the Cougars will rely on one of the best lines in the Pac-10 and a solid stable of safeties. While the starters at the corners and at linebacker appear strong, depth at those positions will have to be developed.
If everyone is available for duty in the fall, WSU's defensive line could be one of the best in the school's history and rival the 1994 unit that anchored the Palouse Posse to national defensive rankings. Five former starters should be ready in August, although only Shane Doyle (6-3, 271, 11 starts) participated in spring drills.
Defensive end Dorian Boose (6-6, 276, 11 starts) broke a wrist bone early in spring drills, while tackles Gary Holmes (6-7, 312, eight starts), Delmar Morais (6-3, 256, three starts) and Leon Bender (6-5, 308, 10 starts) missed spring drills for a variety of reasons. All are seniors except Holmes and Morais, both juniors.
"If everyone is ready in the fall, and we expect them to be ready, we'll be a pretty salty group up front, one of the best ever at WSU," says Price.
The one consistent player has been Doyle, who will see action as both an end and tackle. "He has been Steady Eddie," Price says of his two-year starter. "He has the best technique and had a tremendous spring.
WSU HONOR CANDIDATES
All-American: QB Ryan Leaf, junior; RB Michael Black, senior; DE Dorian Boose, senior; OG Jason McEndoo, senior.
Butkus Award: LB Brandon Moore, senior.
Lombardi Award: OG Jason McEndoo, senior; C Cory Withrow, senior.
Doak Walker Award: RB Michael Black, senior.
O'Brien Award: QB Ryan Leaf, junior.
All-Pac-10 Offense: SB Kevin McKenzie, senior; SB Shawn Tims, senior.
All-Pac-10 Defense: P Jeff Banks, senior; DT Gary Holmes, junior; SS Duane Stewart, senior.
WSU will build its linebacker corps around senior Brandon Moore (6-1, 220, 11 starts), who combines both speed and size in the mold of recent pros James Darling, Mark Fields, Ron Childs and Anthony McClanahan. "Brandon has been one of the most underrated, unnoticed linebackers in the league, but next year I think people will find out just how tough he is," Price offers.
Joining Moore will be sophomore Steve Gleason (5-11, 214), one of the fastest players on the team, plus senior Todd Nelson (6-3, 240, three starts). "We will be fine at linebacker," says the Cougar coach. "Nelson is very smart and makes the right reads, while Gleason has tremendous speed."
Three of WSU's secondary starters are pretty solid, although the competition will be tough, especially at the safety spots. Heading the list of returnees is senior Duane Stewart (6-2, 218, 11 starts), a talented strong safety who has started for two years. Senior Ray Jackson (6-1, 210), who started at cornerback as a sophomore, is expected to start at free safety, although he will have to hold off Torry Hollimon (5-10, 199, sophomore), Bryant Thomas (6-0, 204, senior) and Alex Tinsley (5-10, 193, freshman). Thomas had an impressive spring after moving to the secondary from his wide receiver position of three years.
Junior Dee Moronkola (5-8, 190, three starts) has a good grasp on one cornerback position, with the battle wide open for the other cornerback spot. Candidates include freshman Jermaine Hunsaker (5-9, 177), who came out of spring ball number one, plus sophomores LeJuan Gibbons (5-9, 174) and Nep Drummer (5-10, 212) and senior D. J. Mitchell (5-10, 210).
The key to a successful season, according to Price, will be how well prepared the Cougars are when fall camp opens. "We must be in tip top-shape August 7, not August 27. If we are ready this will be an exciting season," predicts Price.