The unusual conditioning method saves wear and tear on the legs, the Washington State coach says.

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PULLMAN — Mike Leach has always been an adversary of sprint-based punishment. Here’s how the Washington State coach sees it.

“The traditional thing is ‘run sprints,’ ” Leach said Wednesday afternoon following a practice at Martin Stadium. “But you’re trying to save their legs because you need their legs and the energy in their legs for tomorrow, the next day, the next day, the game and so it goes. And so legs aren’t really a resource I’m interested in tapping.”

But lungs are fair game.

Not particularly pleased with the “sustained focus” his offense showed near the end of practice No. 13, Leach gave viewers a taste of his preferred method of punishment.

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In unison, more than 50 players dropped to their bellies near midfield. Then they rolled. Every single offensive player, from the Heisman candidate quarterback to the walk-on receiver, rolled until they reached the end zone. They caught a quick breather, then rolled back to point A.

It’s not how Leach envisioned his offense gaining 100 yards, but the coach hopes a lesson was learned nonetheless.

“You try to expand the arsenal as the course of practice goes and the dimension of your team,” he said. “And I just wanted to make sure everybody knew (rolling) was in the arsenal, too.”

“Rolling” has long been a staple of the Leach era in Pullman. The sixth-year Cougar coach can’t trace the exact roots of the exercise, but through his own experiences, he’s found it to be much more productive than the alternative.

“I’m trying to think who came up with it, and I’ve thought of team after team that I’ve burned legs with, with regard to just kind of post-practice stuff,” Leach said. “You’d see some guys who were totally gassed and you knew where some of it probably went. And then our receivers run a ton anyway. So long story short, we’re trying to save the legs.”

But there’s more to it. Rolling, unlike running, is a big man’s game. Too often in history, the big guys have drawn the short end of the stick, Leach says.

“Starting in grade school and it doesn’t matter really what sport, or even P.E. You start in grade school, the great big guys get screwed because the little skinny guys, they just stride it out,” he said. “Then junior high, same thing. High school, same thing.”

Count Leach among those who got “screwed.” The WSU coach competed in middle-distance track events as a child and although Leach was never the last guy to finish, it was in Cody, Wyo., that his disdain for sprinting took hold.

“I was not happy,” he said. “But I went out there and I’d look around and I’d kind of handicap the field, try to figure out how many are we talking, how long’s this going to last. And I’d make sure I stayed in the top quarter. I wasn’t trying to win it because they were sprints after all.”

Now Leach wants to even the playing field.

“But big guys can roll easier than little guys,” Leach said. “Little guys hate it more than big guys, and so we’re just trying to level the scale just a bit where I can.”