PULLMAN – Mike Leach has yet to coach a game in this isolated little college town, but the national spotlight has found little difficulty tracking Washington State’s new football coach.
Leach is featured in the current issue of Men’s Journal magazine. He was a guest at the summer wedding of movie star Matthew McConaughey. His name regularly pops up in national media circles.
“He’s an interesting and funny character,” said John Fullington, WSU’s junior offensive tackle out of North Mason High School. “He’s definitely very knowledgeable. He knows his stuff.
“He’s got his own personality. He’s a funny guy, but also very focused and aware. Just a good, good guy.”
Former Washington Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel, an analyst on the new Pac-12 television network, is a strong supporter of Leach. Neuheisel said it’s no fluke that all 10 of Leach’s Texas Tech teams went to bowl games.
“I think Leach makes it 11 in a row,” Neuheisel said. “I think they surprise BYU.”
BYU is a 131/2-point favorite over Washington State in the season opener Aug. 30 in Provo, Utah (7:15 p.m., ESPN).
A 4-0 start – last accomplished by the Cougars when they started 7-0 in 2001 en route to the Rose Bowl – might be in the offing if Washington State upsets BYU.
The Cougars figure to be favored Sept. 8 against visiting Eastern Washington, Sept. 14 at UNLV and at homecoming Sept. 22 in the conference opener against Colorado. Then comes the “annual home game” in Seattle against fifth-ranked Oregon on Sept. 29.
WSU wide receiver Marquess Wilson is being mentioned in 2013 NFL draft projections as a potential first-round pick if he chooses to bypass his senior year. Wilson said he’s “not thinking about” next year.
“I just want to help the Cougars win more games this year,” he said.
Wilson, a preseason All-America, set school records by wide margins with 82 catches and 1,388 receiving yards last year. He’s in good position to shatter WSU career records in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches this season.
Xavier Cooper, projected to start on the defensive line as a redshirt freshman, has missed several practices. Leach does not discuss injuries, and injured players are generally banned from giving interviews.
Cooper, a Wilson High School graduate, briefly wore a protective boot on his right foot. He has been riding exercise bikes, and he was seen running sprints with apparent ease Thursday.
Cougfan.com, citing an anonymous source, reported that potential starting offensive tackle Rico Forbes and highly regarded freshman defensive lineman Robert Barber face season-ending knee operations after tearing anterior cruciate ligaments.
The Cougars are pushing hard for sellouts for the home opener and the Seattle game. Ticket manager Paul Finn said Friday that about 5,000 of 34,300 tickets remain for the Eastern game and 22,000 of 67,000 for Oregon. … Wide receiver Gabe Marks, a true freshman, continues to play superbly. Leach hasn’t ruled out starting Marks in the opener. “His skills are sharp … (he) plays older than he is,” Leach said. … Leach gave players their second day off Saturday since practice began Aug. 2. The team practiced just 45 minutes in shorts and helmets Friday night. Players whooped it up after practice when Samoan players staged a brief dance, linemen caught punts and Marquess Wilson kicked a ball that accidentally blasted offensive line coach Clay McGuire (who was not injured). … Friday’s practice was the last one open to fans and media (except the first 15 minutes for media from now on), and only coaches will give interviews until postgame at BYU. Those are unprecedented policies at Washington State. But Leach said he wants to keep players, who start classes Monday, focused.