PULLMAN, Wash. (AP) — Nick Rolovich would like the attention to be on the field and the performance of Washington State after a first season in charge of the Cougars that was anything but normal.
It seems Rolovich will get his wish after the coach said he will comply with a new state mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for all those working at the state’s colleges and universities, including coaches.
Rolovich had previously said he had not received a COVID-19 vaccination for personal reasons. But to coach the likes of Max Borghi and Jahad Woods this season, Rolovich will need to be vaccinated by mid-October or receive an approved medical or religious exemption.
“I plan on following his mandate, for sure,” Rolovich said.
While the conversation about Rolovich will be ongoing until it's clear he's either been vaccinated or received an exemption, the on-field questions for the Cougars surround how well the run-and-shoot offense will evolve in its second season.
Borghi is a major factor in how successful Washington State will be.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior has been a productive running back since setting foot on campus. But most of his time the first two years was spent as a pass catcher in the Air Raid offense run by former coach Mike Leach.
The run-and-shoot has more foundations in the ground game and therefore more opportunity for Borghi to be a major factor as a runner.
Borghi is the only player in the country named to watch lists for both the top running back and top receiver in college football.
“Obviously, I can prove myself in that aspect and if I have aspirations of playing at the next level, obviously that’s huge,” Borghi said. “I’m excited to just run the ball. I felt like Leach’s offense would frustrate me sometimes. I’d be like, just run the ball. But we wouldn’t do it. It got frustrating.”
Borghi played in only one game last season, rushing 10 times for 95 yards in the season finale against Utah.
Two years ago, he rushed for 817 yards and 11 touchdowns while catching a team-high 86 passes for 597 yards and five touchdowns. He was the only Power 5 player with more than 800 rushing yards, 550 receiving yards and 16 total touchdowns.
“I’m just excited for the running back room and myself. I think it’s going to be a big year running the ball. We’ve got some dudes, we’ve got some studs,” Borghi said.
While Borghi and fellow running back Deon McIntosh give the Cougars depth, the quarterback position remains a major uncertainty. There are also questions on the defensive side about depth around Woods, even with the Cougars having 18 total starters returning from last year.
Washington State went 1-3 in a 2020 season abbreviated by the pandemic. The Cougars were picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North in the preseason poll.
“There’s NFL draft picks in our locker room,” Rolovich said. “I’m very confident in this team. These players will elevate not only Washington State football but also the Pac-12.”
Last year’s starter Jayden de Laura is back. So is little-used Cammon Cooper, plus Tennessee graduate transfer Jarrett Guarantano. All three will get a chance to win the starting job, Rolovich said. This is the fourth straight season the Cougars have entered fall camp without an established starter.
Last season, de Laura threw for 886 yards and five touchdowns in four games.
Star wide receiver Renard Bell will miss the season with a torn ACL, and Jamire Calvin and Lucas Bacon have left the program. But the Cougars are still well stocked at the position. Rolovich said Calvin Jackson Jr. would have an opportunity to play at inside receiver this fall. Travell Harris should be one of the most explosive receivers in the Pac-12.
With players granted an extra year of eligibility this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, WSU’s roster is up to 118 players. That’s presented a few logistical challenges.
Borghi said the team is using a room adjacent to the locker room as an additional locker room.
“All the freshmen are in there,” he said.
Washington State has seven home games this season, including nonconference matchups with Utah State, Portland State and BYU. The plan is for Martin Stadium to be open at full capacity.
Six of the home games are in September and October, when the weather tends to be better on the Palouse, with the highlight coming on Sept. 18 as the Cougars host No. 15 USC in their Pac-12 opener.
The Cougars go on the road for most of their more challenging conference matchups with games at No. 24 Utah, No. 11 Oregon, No. 25 Arizona State and the Apple Cup against No. 20 Washington in Seattle.
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