WSU opens spring football with an all-new look. Here’s what to look out for when practices begin.
The Washington State football team that begins spring training on Wednesday will be very different from the Cougars last season, both in style and personnel.
Gone is the run-and-shoot offense that coach Nick Rolovich brought to the Palouse and the modified version of the air raid that new offensive coordinator Eric Morris used as head coach at FCS Incarnate Word.
Two-year-old starting quarterback Jayden de Laura is also gone, and Incarnate Word’s highly touted transfer Cameron Ward.
“There were a bunch of really tough decisions when I took over, and changing the attack was probably the biggest one,” Dickert said. “There was a certain style that I was looking for, a certain style that fit Washington State, and a certain energy and passion that I thought our program needed.
“As I watched guys all over the country who were still throwing the ball but emphasizing the running game and using the tight H-back finishing position the way I wanted and using a certain tempo – it all came back to Eric (Morris). I think he’s one of the bright young minds in college football and I think he’s going to build something very special here.
Ward, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, thrived under Morris’ system at Incarnate Word, throwing for 4,648 yards and 47 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. Dickert compared Ward to Buffalo Bills star Josh Allen, who played in Wyoming when Dickert was there.
“The first time I saw Josh throw the ball was different. you could see it, and “whoa,” Dickert said. “Looking at Cam’s tape and his offensive style, you notice, ‘Wow, this quarterback is good.’ He throws to the opposite side on those returns with a flick of the wrist, and you think, ‘That’s something different.'”
Washington State lost many of the stars of last year’s team, including running back Max Borghi, wide receiver Travell Harris, all-conference offensive lineman Abe Lucas and linebacker Jahad Woods.
The Cougars also have an almost entirely new coaching staff, which won praise from Washington State athletic director Pat Chun.
“One of the big challenges for a rookie head coach – one of the big pitfalls that you usually see – is the type of personnel they put in place,” Chun said. “I was just impressed – really from the moment we sat down and he said who he was going to target. But then he actually has to go out and grab them, and one by one he grabbed the people who were his targets.
Dickert said he looks for specific qualifications when assembling the new staff, which includes defensive coordinator Brian Ward.
“In staffing, it was very important that I work with them personally and know them, or at some point in their careers they were in Washington State, because I want to bring stability to our program,” he said. “To create long-term success, we need stability. The past three years have been anything but.
The Cougars finished last season with a 24-21 loss to Central Michigan, a game that was missing many star players. WSU looked in poor shape as they led 21-0 at halftime, and de Laura was eliminated from the game with an injury in the second quarter.
But former quarterback Victor Gabalis, who started the season ranked 4th in the depth chart, led a remarkable comeback that narrowly fell short.
“I think it showed the heart of our team and the real passion,” Dickert said.
Dickert said he doesn’t know how good the WSU can be this season, “but I’m not going to put a cap on us.”
“When you recruit and develop the right guys, they’re always ready for their moment,” Dickert said. “And we’ve got guys waiting to be the next Max Borghi, the next Travell Harris and the other next guys. So we’re excited about what we can be, but this is new staff and really new. a new program… and we have to get used to our programs and stay healthy.
How many wins would be a successful season?
“I wouldn’t put a number of wins on that,” he said. “Our guys know I’m a guy with a 1-0 mindset and individual moments can add up over time. But let’s focus on our daily best and great things can happen. But I think we can be a winning team. We have some of the parts, but we have to go out and do it.