New coach Paul Wulff, who played for WSU from 1986-89, has a surreal feeling as camp opens. The Cougars have been picked to finish last in the Pac-10.
PULLMAN — It has been 19 years since Paul Wulff opened a fall camp as a Washington State Cougar.
Even so, he admitted being the new coach where he played had a surreal feeling.
“I wouldn’t say it’s emotional, but definitely some feelings,” he said. “I can’t explain the feeling yet, I think I’m still trying to get it.”
Wulff, a starting center for WSU from 1986-89, was “encouraged” with the progress his team made since the last practice of spring camp.
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“The players picked up a lot over the summer,” Wulff said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but they definitely worked hard since spring.”
Defensive end Andy Mattingly, who led the team in sacks last year as an outside linebacker, said every scholarship player — save for wide receiver Jeshua Anderson — stayed over the summer and practiced together four times a week.
“We took classes together, worked out together, had team barbecues all summer,” he said. “This is by far the closest team we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Anderson, the NCAA 400-meter hurdles champion, was pursuing his track and field Olympic dream this summer. He did not qualify for the U.S. team.
The Cougars return 15 starters from last season’s 5-7 team, including nine from a defense that gave up a Pac-10 worst 32.4 points per game.
A big unknown heading into the season is senior quarterback Gary Rogers, who spent the past two seasons backing up Alex Brink. Rogers made regularly scheduled appearances in 2006, but attempted just 16 passes last season.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Rogers said. “I want to prove to everybody what I can do and show people I’m not just a backup. My goal is to become a better leader every day and get this team to a bowl game.”
WSU was picked to finish last in the preseason Pac-10 media poll and by others.
“That’s what they’re viewed at from the outside,” Wulff said. “Naturally if you’re a competitor, you should have a chip on your shoulder. We’re going to find out if our chip is big enough.”
WSU opens Aug. 30 against Oklahoma St. at Qwest Field.
Dwight Tardy, who started WSU’s first eight games last season before suffering a season-ending ACL tear in a 214-yard effort against UCLA, was practicing and in high spirits.
“It was like being a kid again,” he said. “It’s just great to be back out here with these guys and finally feel like part of the team again.”
Wulff said Tardy will be monitored day to day. Tardy is listed first on the team’s depth chart, but backup Chris Ivory showed promise last season and figures to vie for time.
• Punter Reid Forrest showed up on crutches and wearing a medical boot on his left foot. He broke his left ankle in early July and is recovering from surgery. Wulff said Forrest has an “outside chance” to return for the start of the season.
Dan Wagner and Nico Grasu will compete the remainder of camp.