One perk that comes with qualifying for a bowl game is the “winter camp” that precedes it.
“Anytime you can stay together, it’s an important part of building a program,” Washington State coach Jake Dickert said, speaking Sunday on a Sun Bowl teleconference call.
Dickert will lead his Cougs into El Paso, Texas, for their 2021 finale against Miami, scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m. PST on Dec. 31.
First, he’ll oversee a dozen or so practice sessions on the snow-blanketed Palouse. The Cougars will plunge into drills later this week, train intermittently during finals week (Dec. 13-17), then hold a number of camplike work days — comprised of group events and additional team meetings — before they head to west Texas on Dec. 26.
“To have this time together is great,” said Dickert, who steadied the ship and helped WSU to three wins as interim coach/defensive coordinator before being promoted a day after last weekend’s Apple Cup smackdown.
“Right now, we have a huge focus on academics and finals, then we get an extra week of just being together and having some fun, doing some team events and doing some bonding stuff once we get down to the bowl site.”
WSU (7-5) will lose 12 important players to graduation — and the NFL draft — after its bout with the Hurricanes, so Dickert plans on conducting several “futures” practices designed to expedite the development process for youngsters who’ll be sliding into roles in a year or two.
“You get to see the freshmen and some of the 3s and 4s that have been running around on the scout team and have been working their tails off in the weight room to improve,” Dickert said. “Those guys will get a lot of reps.”
Every Coug is permitted to travel with the team to El Paso, according to athletic director Pat Chun.
The Sun Bowl will mark the final college appearance for Coug mainstays and fan-favorites including backfield mates Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh, longtime tackles Abraham Lucas and Liam Ryan, record-breaking linebackers Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers, key defensive backs Jaylen Watson, Daniel Isom, George Hicks III and Tyrone Hill Jr., and big-play slotbacks Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris, who finished the season ranked second and third in the Pac-12 in receiving at 955 and 801 yards, respectively.
A number of those players are pro hopefuls.
Borghi, Lucas, Watson and Harris are declaring for the NFL draft early, each ending his Cougar career with a year of eligibility remaining. Watson and Lucas both recently accepted invites to the Senior Bowl.
“There’s also the element (to bowl practices) of what the veterans are doing and how they can keep honing their craft,” said Dickert, who consistently directs praise to WSU’s core of older players for their focus and guidance through a rough start to the year and a midseason coaching change.
“These guys have been special to me. They’ve given me so much. To have more time with them — and even the offensive guys, getting to know them even a little bit better on a personal level — I think is going to be fun for me and my family.”
Notable: Dickert will be participating in his third bowl game. He coached Wyoming’s safeties in the Cowboys’ 37-14 win over Central Michigan in the 2017 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, and he coordinated the Wyoming defense in a 38-17 Arizona Bowl victory against Georgia State two years later.