Like just about every other college football team, Washington State enters its opener Thursday night against Rutgers with some pregnant questions, one of which is:
Can a fifth-year senior cornerback with seven career tackles at WSU find happiness and fulfillment roaming the back end in 2014 against the best quarterbacks this side of the NFC South?
“If you watch the practices, you see we’re just fine in the secondary,” says Tracy Clark. “We’re going to turn some heads.”
Lots of skeptics are wondering whether it might be the Cougars in the secondary turning heads, to watch receivers sprinting away. They’re painfully short on experience, and almost certain to let a true freshman see the field at some point in 2014.
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Clark, 5 feet 11 and 184 pounds, intends to prolong that day. After four years of mostly languishing on the depth chart, he’s a starter.
He came out of Pittsburg, Calif., as one of what the Paul Wulff regime hoped would be a threesome from his high school. The Cougars signed Clark and receiver Robert Jiles, and worked hard on four-star safety Erick Dargan.
Alas, Dargan picked Oregon, where he has started a few games, and Jiles left WSU to play at Division II Glenville State in West Virginia.
Now it’s up to Clark to see that WSU’s recruiting campaign in Pittsburg bears fruit. He doesn’t have an easy explanation for his belated emergence, other than to say he had a great offseason and “I had to wait my turn and get comfortable with what I was doing out there.”
Necessity took hold, both for Clark and the WSU staff, after several veterans in the secondary moved on. Clark says strength coach Jason Loscalzo “would grind on me hard. He told me it’s going to be a big year for me, not to relax and get comfortable.”
Meanwhile, Clark looked to maximize his performance, working on speed training and personal habits.
“I was a lot more focused and dedicated,” he said. “Taking care of my body, eating the right stuff, going to sleep on time, making sure I was drinking a lot of fluids. Stretching a lot — I took a yoga class this summer to get my hips and my body right.”
Bullets haven’t started flying yet, but so far, so good. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske credited Clark with a “great camp” recently.
“He had a good spring and a great summer, and now he’s building on that this fall,” Breske said.
It’s clear that Breske, who coaches the secondary, felt Clark had more to give in the first two years of the Mike Leach regime.
“I think he’s finally bought in,” Breske says. “He had a bunch of older guys around him and just kind of sat back and didn’t compete. Well, we’re all about competing here.”
If Clark could stabilize the “boundary“ corner position for WSU, it would be a major boon to a secondary that projects to have only 16 combined starts for Rutgers.
This much seems evident: There’s no lack of confidence or bravado in the group.
“Tracy’s got a huge chip on his shoulder, people telling him he can’t play,” says reserve safety Beau Glover.
Says Daquawn Brown, the other starting corner, “Time for us new guys to step up and make a name for ourselves.”
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org