Cougar football returns this season with new players, a new stadium and a newly designed mascot.
Head Coach Mike Leach now has some of his own recruits in the program and can begin his reconstruction of Washington State football after a 3-9 debut season last year.
However, no matter who is on the team this year or in the years to follow, the philosophy for winning remains the same. Leach said he will stress steady improvement as the team heads into the first week of the season.
Redshirt junior Connor Halliday, who practiced with the first-team offense for most of fall camp, enters this season as the likely starting quarterback against Auburn in the first game of the season.
“He’s done a good job in the offseason and in the spring as far as leading the group and just generating focus with them,” Leach said of Halliday.
The veteran threw for 1,878 yards, 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions last season and will be backed up by redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca.
After the first game, the Cougars will travel to USC to play their first conference opponent of the season.
Fans will have to wait until Sept. 14 for the home opener against Southern Utah, but the players are just as antsy to get on their home turf to play.
“I’m real happy [to be in Martin Stadium],” Halliday said. “This is our home and we love being here.”
They are just as excited to begin the season in general.
“I’ve been waiting all summer,” redshirt sophomore Jeremiah Laufasa said. “All of us have been putting in so much work and we just want to go out and prove stuff to people.”
The team will cross over into rival territory more than once this season. The Cougars will not only play a game at CenturyLink Field for the Seattle game against Stanford, but they will also play the Huskies in Seattle for the Apple Cup to conclude the regular season.
Along with the freshman recruits found by Leach, many players from last year’s roster will also return to the team.
The Cougars have 10 seniors listed on the depth chart for defense and six seniors on the chart for offense. Several sophomores and freshmen fill out the roster, which gives the team a balance of veteran and rookie players.
The team also enters the season with depth at both the wide receiver and running back positions, and in the Air Raid offense, the receivers will see plenty of time.
Last season, the team rushed for under 350 yards, averaged only 1.4 yards per carry, and 29.1 rushing yards per game, according to wsucougars.com. This year’s version of WSU football will feature a few returning backs like Leon Brooks, Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason. Laufasa will also likely see some time on the field, as will freshman Gerard Wicks.
Halliday will throw to familiar targets like Brett Bartolone, Rickey Galvin and Gabe Marks and will also be looking for new faces like River Cracraft and Robert Lewis amid opposing defenses.
About one week remains until the beginning of the season, when what is on paper will translate into what actually happens on the field. Until then, the clock in the waiting game continues to run.