The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

COMMENTARY: Rise of the backups; Coug depth thrust into key roles

With shaky play and injuries scattered around the squad, WSU football backups must do more than expected
Jamorri Colson (29) celebrates after a big inteception, Nov. 4, in Pullman, Wash.

It is no question that every team goes into a season hoping to stay healthy and wishing that things go as planned, but the harsh reality is, that things are never that simple. More than just talent, a team must have sufficient depth within the roster to get through a full season.

The Cougs have had a tough five-game stretch, resulting in a once 4-0 squad heading into this week now at 4-5. That, however, is an insult to injury as several key Cougars have fallen ill to the injury bug in recent weeks, especially at two major positions. 

That being the case, Wazzu has had to depend on their backups deep within the depth chart often on short notice, and to the pleasant surprise of many, there has been little dropoff.

The biggest position of issue is running back, as WSU’s bell-cow Nakia Watson has been banged up all year, Jaylen Jenkins was dismissed from the program and third-string Dylan Paine has been out multiple weeks with a sprained ankle. Thrust into the role has been Djouvensky Schlenbaker, a redshirt freshman from Squalicum High School in Bellingham, Washington.

Schlenbaker got some reps last year in garbage time in his redshirt season, but with the opportunity, got his first career start against Stanford last Saturday. Similar to the rest of the Coug’s stable of backs he found limited success but still showed his worth.

“I thought Djouvensky did a great job. I thought he was physical. I didn’t notice any drop-off from him out there versus Nakia or Dylan or anybody else. I thought he prepared hard, he worked hard and he’s ready for his moments,” WSU head coach Jake Dickert said in the Stanford post-game press conference.

Overall Schlenbaker had 13 carries for 34 yards, with his longest run being nine yards and also having another nine-yard run called back for a penalty. Despite a tough day statistically, his preparation has shown through and his potential is clear.

Djouvensky Schlenbaker runs through an open gap in the first quarter of WSU’s battle with Stanford, Nov. 4, in Pullman, Wash.

“He’s got a bright future ahead of him, the biggest thing about Djouvensky is that he comes to work every day, and his position it’s hard to pick up blitzes and pass protection. He’s locked into that each and every week,” WSU quarterback Cam Ward said. “Djouvensky is that young spark that we need, he runs very hard. So anytime that I know I have 1-5 back there, whether it’s pass protecting, running, you know he’s gonna do his 1-11 for the offense.”

On the defensive side, it is the cornerback position that has been hit the hardest by injury recently, with top corner Chau Smith-Wade missing the last two games and Javan Robinson missing the Stanford game. Against Stanford, it was Cam Lampkin and Stephen Hall who got the call to start, with JUCO transfer Jamorri Colson finishing the game for Hall.

Hall has gotten limited appearances this season with a mixed bag of results, but Colson on the other hand was getting his first starting reps defensively. Hall was able to record three tackles and a pass breakup guarding star Stanford receiver Elic Ayomanor. 

Lampkin also exited for a short period leaving Colson and Hall on the field together for a series, in which Stanford did nothing productive. Ultimately the Coug corners held Stanford to just 142 passing yards and no touchdowns. 

The biggest play however came from Colson, who is playing his first year of Division One football after transferring from Iowa Western Community College, as he intercepted Stanford QB Ashton Daniels, adding an exclamation point to Wazzu’s fantastic defensive showing.

“I’m really proud of Jamorri, I’m really proud of Stephen,” Dickert said. “To have those guys step up like that and play against good competition, it was hard out there. They’re willing to take the ball down the field, but to make a big pick, I’m really proud of both of those two as individuals.”

Stephen Hall celebrates with his defensive teammates after a big pass breakup in the first quarter, Nov. 4, in Pullman, Wash.

While Schlenbaker, Hall and Colson were shoved into the spotlight against Stanford, they along with many other key Cougar backups will be asked to do much more going forward to turn things around for WSU.

Some other key backups include defensive tackles Khalil Laufau, Jernias Tafia and Ansel Din-Mbuh with the injury to starter David Gusta, tight end Cameron Johnson, who played in an expanded role against Stanford including running routes at the X-receiver position and linebacker Taariq (Buddah) Al-Uqdah who has rotated into a semi-starting role with the struggles at the position this year.

Ultimately depth is key for any team because no program gets through a year without injuries or adversity. If the Cougars want to right the ship and salvage what remains of the 2023 season, these backups will have to do much more than was expected at the beginning of the season.

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About the Contributors
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.