LEWISTON, Idaho — John Fullington, a three-year starter on Washington State’s offensive line, suffered in silence when he spent much of spring practice on the second team.
On Friday, when Fullington spent all of WSU’s first fall practice at right guard with the No. 1 offense, the soft-spoken senior grew unusually animated when asked about the coaches’ decision to divide his spring playing time between the starting unit and the second string.
“It (ticked) me off, because I didn’t really see it in the same light,” Fullington said. “They (coaches) have a reason for it.”
Indeed, WSU coaches mixed and matched on the offensive line throughout spring ball after the Cougars gave up a school-record 57 quarterback sacks last year. That was the highest total in the Football Bowl Subdivision, partly due to the fact that few teams passed more and no team ran less than the Cougars.
Fullington repeatedly said “it’s all good” now that he’s back with the starters, but he added, “I like to compete, and going back to the second team makes you mad.”
Fullington made honorable mention All-Pac-12 Conference for the second straight year last season, but coach Mike Leach made it clear that starting jobs on the offensive line are wide open.
“We’ll heat up the competition and see where everybody winds up,” Leach said.
Fresh start — The Cougars, not unlike virtually every college football team in history, pronounced the first day of practice a good one.
“A lot better than last year’s first day, so everybody’s excited about that,” quarterback Connor Halliday said.
Leach said the first practice was “significantly” better than last year’s first day. All of WSU’s coaches were new last season, and a new offense and defense were installed.
Coaches also tried to install a new, tougher attitude on a team that has been losing for years. Leach and his players said much progress has been made in that regard.
“The work ethic was the best since I’ve been here this summer,” Fullington said. “Definitely. No question about it.”
“That was the best off-season I’ve been a part of since I got here,” senior safety Deone Bucannon said. “We definitely worked hard.”
New site — Leach and players said holding the start of fall camp in Lewiston — about a 45-minute bus ride south of Pullman — should help with team bonding. The Cougars are staying in dorms at Lewis-Clark State College and taking yellow school buses to and from Sacajawea Junior High School for the first 10 practices.
“It’s cool,” Bucannon said. “I like everything here.”
Bucannon acknowledged that footing could be tricky on the spongy grass fields.
“This is a certifiably slow surface,” Leach said. “I mean, I don’t know if there is a slower surface.”
Star search — Halliday, the only quarterback in camp who has played in a college game, looked sharp. He singled out new receivers River Cracraft and Vince Mayle for praise.
Defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao and cornerback Damante Horton recorded interceptions in the non-contact, no-pads, helmets-only practice (per NCAA rules). Bucannon and buck linebacker Tana Pritchard made nice plays to turn away potential touchdown catches.