High energy, expectations at first football spring practice


Redshirt junior quaterback Luke Falk passes during spring practice at Martin Stadium on March 31, 2015.

As the WSU football team opened its spring season with practice on Thursday, a unique feeling filled the Martin Stadium air.

After going 9-4 and winning six Pac-12 games in 2015, and with Heisman-hyped redshirt junior quarterback Luke Falk coming back to run the show, Head Coach Mike Leach’s 2016 Cougar team is surrounded by excitement, but also high expectations.

“We’ve just got to avoid the noise,” Falk said. “We did that all of last season when people doubted us, now that we’ve got a few more people believing in us we’ve still got to avoid the noise and put or head down and go to work.”

Even the even-keel Coach Leach acknowledged the anticipation he and his players felt for returning to organized team activities.

“We’ve had a really energetic off-season, it’s probably the best off-season we’ve had, and we had a good off-season last year, too,” Leach said. “I thought we executed at a little bit higher level than other spring starts.”

Wearing helmets and shorts, the Cougars opened the spring season with a 2.5 hour practice in wind, hail and overall chilly conditions that included 7-on-7 work, position drills, special teams and full-team workouts.

“Leach like calls somebody in Pullman and he says ‘Hey, give me the hail, give it to us today,’” redshirt senior wide receiver Gabe Marks said. “We never get it, and then the first day of spring every year we get it.”

In 7-on-7 situations, all five QB’s listed on WSU’s roster took plenty of snaps, but Falk took the majority of them, and looked comfortable throwing to his expansive stable of receivers, which included Marks – who chose not to enter the 2016 NFL draft and instead play out his redshirt senior season – and senior River Cracraft – who missed the final three games of the 2015 regular season due to injury.

“It’s nice to have that kid (Cracraft) back because one (pass) I thought might get picked off he just fought for the ball,” Falk said. “He’s a gamer, so I love playing with River and all those guys.”

With the entire left side of the 2015 Cougar offensive line in Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund graduating, one of the more hotly contested position battles in spring ball will be in the trenches. Redshirt sophomore Andre Dillard took the first team reps at left tackle Thursday, and 6-8, 351 pound redshirt junior Cody O’Connell – by far the biggest guy on the practice field – took snaps at left tackle.

“Dillard is athletic as any (of the offensive linemen) and O’Connell’s bigger than them, and there’s some other guys to pick from, too,” Leach said. “Those guys are kind of leading it off and we’ll see where it goes.”

The next Cougar football practice will begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Rogers Field and Martin Stadium.