From 2013-16, the boys basketball team at Archbishop Murphy High mirrored a revolving door, with three coaches in four years.
What’s the link between that and the Pac-12 football program on the other side of the state?
Abraham Lucas, Washington State’s prolific right tackle, was an imposing center for a few of those Archbishop Murphy teams, demonstrating the same combination of footwork, strength and intellect that’s made such a dominant presence on the right side of the Cougars’ offensive line.
In a Zoom interview Monday evening, Lucas reflected on his high-school basketball career to make a point. This year at WSU, he and the other two veterans on the offensive line, Liam Ryan and Josh Watson, will take instruction from their third position coach. Ryan and Watson have had three offensive line coaches in five years. For Lucas, make it three in four.
Clay McGuire, a longtime aid on Leach’s staff, split with the Cougars after the 2017 season for the same job at Texas Tech. Mason Miller joined the program in 2018, but left for Mississippi State this offseason. When Nick Rolovich took over, the new WSU coach appointed ex-Hawaii assistant Mark Weber, who’s spent almost 40 years in college football, to the offensive line.
“I’m used to it. I kind of went through the same thing in high school when I was playing basketball,” Lucas said. “I had three different coaches and a couple of them weren’t all that great. Coming into something where you have three coaches, or coach after coach after coach, it’s just the nature of the business and I was taught that my freshman year. There’s people who kind of jump ship and that’s not always a bad thing. They move on to different opportunities. They’re looking out for their family, that’s fine. Same with college kids who transfer and stuff like that to be closer home and all that. It’s their choice, it’s their opportunity and they’re going to take it and they’ve got to live with the decision they make.
“That’s their thing. I’m here, I’ve been here, I’m here for the long haul. Ready for whatever comes.”
WSU’s veteran offensive linemen could bemoan the lack of continuity on the coaching staff. Instead, they’ve recognized the potential value of it.
“I think it teaches exactly what this game’s about,” Rolovich said. “It’s about midstream adjusting, doing the best for your teammates, being open to new ways of doing things. I think it’ll give them at the end of it, a lot of knowledge in preparation. I think all three of them have aspirations to play at the next level and the excuse of, I’ve had too many coaches in too many years, doesn’t help make the roster.”
Ryan and Lucas have both been complimentary of Weber, “a mastermind at offensive line,” according to the former. Weber’s coaching career began in 1979 at Los Angeles Valley College. Since, the O-line specialist has had two other stops in the Pac-12, at UCLA and Oregon State, a four-stop tour in the Mountain West and one pit stop in the ACC, at North Carolina.
“He has a wealth of knowledge,” Lucas said. “… I’m trusting what he says, because if I was to do my own thing I would fail and I know that. So I have no problem listening to somebody who’s been in coaching like twice as long as I’ve been alive. I’m 21, he’s been in football for over 40 years, so I would be stupid to not listen to him and not take to heart what he says.”
Brown beefs up
Last season, Travion Brown made an instant impact on WSU’s defense, even as he rotated from inside linebacker to “Rush” linebacker and finally to the more hybrid nickel position. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound freshman played in all 13 games and registered 28 tackles, with three for a loss.
When Brown came to preseason camp 25 pounds heavier, Jake Dickert and the new defensive staff didn’t have to think twice about what they’d do with the sophomore.
“Tra’s going to be one of our inside backers and just excited about his growth,” Dickert said. “You remember Tra as that 6-2, 210-pound kid. He’s 235 right now, so it’s amazing how these guys grow up and his physicality.”
So, yes, Brown, once the highest-rated player in WSU’s 2019 recruiting class, figures to make his presence known at inside linebacker, where he’ll compete with veterans such as Jahad Woods, Justus Rogers and Dillon Sherman.
Dickert figures Brown’s impact will go well beyond the stat sheet, and he’s only known the linebacker since January.
“Let me talk about a great young man,” the DC said. “He’s one of those kids you’d do anything for. His spirit, his energy, his focus, the attention to detail. I can’t say enough positive things about how this kid has impacted me in 10 months.”
With wide receiver Rodrick Fisher no longer in the mix, fourth-year junior Armani Marsh becomes the only Spokane product on WSU’s football roster. Just 80 miles down the road, the Gonzaga Prep graduate has made sure to do his hometown proud.
The Cougars are still at least a few weeks from revealing their first depth chart of the 2020 season, but one thing is clear: Marsh has performed particularly well in the nickel role, and his practice habits have rubbed off on teammates both in and outside his position group.
“We’re really excited about Armani Marsh is doing,” Dickert said. “Not just on the field, off the field as a leader, as a motivator. Just the way he practices and prepares and how much he gives to this unit. Just excited about him in this position.”
Marsh, a former walk-on who was placed on scholarship by Leach last season, played in all 13 games as a redshirt sophomore and made three starts. Mostly playing at nickel, he recorded 24 tackles and two pass breakups.
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