LEWISTON, Idaho - Washington State broke its 12-day football camp here with an hourlong scrimmage Wednesday, and the star of the day was - of all things - a running back.
Gerard Wicks, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound redshirt freshman from renowned Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, broke two long runs down the right sideline on a day when the offense and defense traded successful moments.
"He's a good combination of strong and fast," said WSU coach Mike Leach of Wicks, whose first touchdown, a 44-yard effort, was the only one of the day by a backup offense against the No. 1 defense. His second long burst of 40 yards came as part of the first unit against second- and third-team reserves.
"He plays hard and doesn't hesitate, so it's paid off for him," Leach said.
Referring to a solid fall camp, Wicks said: "Once they gave me my shot, I just took off and ran with it. Sitting out a whole year of football (as a redshirt), that'll happen."
So promising has Wicks been, as well as 5-8, 187-pound classmate Jamal Morrow, that the two backs who saw the most action a year ago, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell, have chiefly been seeing time on backup units.
Leach liked the work of quarterback Connor Halliday, who led touchdown drives on six of seven chances against the No. 2 defense, saying, "I thought it was one of his best days."
Meanwhile, the No. 1 defense had its way on five of six series against offensive backups - the only breakdown being the Wicks scoring run. Asked to compare the state of the defense to a year ago when the Cougars finished their Lewiston camp, defensive lineman Toni Pole said it's "not even close because of the experience."
Halliday sounded an upbeat note about the secondary, which has been seen as the most vulnerable unit on the team. He said the strength of the offense has helped develop the back end.
"I think it's made them a bunch better," he said. "Where we were after spring ball, and throwing by ourselves in the summer to where it is now, I didn't think they could make that big a stride. They're playing great right now."
WSU appeared to come through the scrimmage healthy, but wideout Gabe Marks and safety Isaac Dotson have missed time recently. Marks should be back shortly, but Dotson, a Newport High product who would have threatened to start, has been out with an undisclosed injury.
After returning to Pullman, the Cougars were to take Thursday off before resuming preparations for their season opener against Rutgers at CenturyLink Field on Aug. 28.