New Washington State coach Mike Leach has been impressed with senior tight end Andrei Lintz.
PULLMAN — When Mike Leach was named to the Washington State football job four months ago, WSU partisans knew what they were in for — receivers flooding the secondary, Leach’s droll commentary, perhaps an introduction to the subculture of pirates.
What they might not have counted on was seeing a 6-foot-5, 252-pound receiver regularly splitting seams with downfield pass routes, a guy who was an afterthought in the offense in 2011.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Andrei Lintz. “I can’t really contain my enthusiasm for how much I like it.”
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In the Leach offense, there’s not much call for a traditional tight end, which probably explains the recent departure from the WSU roster of highly regarded Aaron Dunn.
On the other hand, if that tight end tends more to the receiver mode than blocker, he can be a big weapon in the Leach offense.
“If you have one,” Leach said, “just watching him is fun. You’re talking about a guy that if they put the safety on him, he can pretty well pull the safety’s arms off. And if they put the linebacker on him, he’s still bigger than the linebacker.
“And the fact of the matter is, he’s a better athlete than a lot of those linebackers. It’s a lot of fun.”
So what do we call Lintz?
“I really don’t know what to call me anymore,” he said.
What he is, is a slot receiver, or the same position Gino Simone will be playing in the fall at probably 185 pounds.
At tight end and H-back in the Paul Wulff regime, Lintz had a mere eight career catches, seven last season. He had watched a little of Texas Tech in the past and knew Leach didn’t do much with the tight end.
“When (Leach) got hired, people came up to me and said, ‘What are you going to do? What’s going to happen with you?’ ” Lintz said.
Let Leach explain what’s happened: “The first day we featured him, he caught nine balls.”
Leach’s early assessment of the talent he inherited has been measured. He seems to want to take a positive tack and not undersell certain positions, while at the same time not gushing where it might be warranted.
In the case of Lintz, Leach seems inclined to let it flow.
“He’s very impressive,” Leach said. “And he’s in pretty darn good shape. He’s 250 or 260, and we’re running him around like he’s 170.”
Had Lintz known football could be this much fun, maybe he would have started it earlier. It’s just that where he comes from, football isn’t a big deal.
When he was 6 years old, his mother Galina brought him to the United States from St. Petersburg, Russia, to start a new life. Lintz’s grandfather Yuri was a professional soccer player in the old country, and that was Andrei’s passion as well.
Galina worked at the famed St. Catherine’s Palace outside St. Petersburg, and Lintz remembers a boyhood frolicking on the grounds among the statues and monuments. Summers, he spent time at his grandparents’ dacha, a country home amid potato fields.
He didn’t play football until ninth grade, and initially, was a skinny receiver at Meridian High in Bellingham. Then he began filling out and played tight end and defensive end as a junior and senior. He had a couple of Big Sky offers in addition to WSU, before Dennis Erickson and Arizona State made a late pitch.
Now, he’s come full-circle as primarily a receiver, albeit one Leach wants to see make his physical presence known in releases at the line of scrimmage.
“We’re trying to get him to use his hands, based on what he did last year (as a blocker),” Leach said. “Clearly, he’s not afraid of contact and he’s not afraid to put his hands on somebody or run into somebody.
“Now that he sees all these little finesse characters around him, I want him to start flapping those hands around. He’s a big guy, and a very fluid athlete.”
Leach made the same point the other day to reporters, in more colorful prose.
“He needs to be like those grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park that start tipping over dumpsters and throwing garbage out of them at the lodges,” Leach said. “So this next practice, we’re going to stick a dumpster in front of him … “
Lintz has a basketball analogy for his new role.
“Every big guy in basketball wants to handle the ball and shoot threes,” he said, smiling. “I get to run around with the small guys and catch balls.”
As for Dunn, the Cougars lost one of their most acclaimed recruits of the Wulff regime. Attempts by The Seattle Times to reach him were unsuccessful.
“He was a great part of the team,” Lintz said. “All the guys liked him. (But) I can’t really blame him.”
“Just as I became aware of who he was, he quit,” Leach said. “He was a big-bodied guy who looked good. We never got to check him out. I’m kind of curious, honestly. It doesn’t do me any good now.”
Lintz says he wished Dunn the best.
Today, he might also say he doesn’t know what he’s missing.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org