WSU football: Kooyman opening eyes, harassing quarterbacks

PULLMAN – A quick poll about which Washington State football player is due for a breakout season this fall likely would bring a variety of answers.

In any case, defensive end Kevin Kooyman probably would garner his share of votes.

No matter who you talk to around a Cougars practice, Kooyman’s growth is one of the first things mentioned.

Teammate Brandon Gibson gave his vote to Kooyman would be that breakout player.

When told of such talk, Kooyman flashed a humble grin – minus a front tooth – and tried to play it off.

“It’s definitely kind of hard to think about that,” he said. “I just try to ignore it and focus on what I’m going to do for the team.”

Fans got to see a hint of what Kooyman could do for the team last season. The Tahoma grad and former News Tribune All-Area athlete of the year, appeared in seven of the 12 WSU games, and he started against USC and Arizona. He racked up 2ß sacks against San Diego State, and even had a decent showing against USC All-American tackle Sam Baker.

Then a compound finger dislocation sidelined him for two games, and in his first game back he severely sprained his ankle to end his season.

“I was just hampered by injuries,” Kooyman said. “It’s definitely really frustrating to see somebody else out there in your spot and taking your reps.”

In his limited time, Kooyman finished with 10 tackles, 3ß sacks and a fumble recovery.

This fall, Kooyman has been one of few Cougars not slowed by injuries. He’s out there on every first-team snap. He’s also been a disruptive menace, consistently pressuring quarterbacks while locking up the starting left defensive end position.

“I’ve got a pass-rush plan now,” he said.

Indeed, when Kooyman arrived at WSU, he was a raw athlete with a wrestler’s toughness and a singular mentality.

“I was just kind of an athlete,” he said. “I mean, in high school it was pretty much line up and go tackle somebody.”

That doesn’t exactly cut it in the Pacific-10 Conference. So Kooyman has honed his skills. He credits new defensive line coach Malik Roberson for refining his fundamentals.

“He’s really helped me make some strides,” Kooyman said. “I have a pass-rush repertoire I can use. I’m definitely getting molded into a well-rounded player.”

There is nothing round about Kooyman’s physique. He has focused on gaining weight since he arrived on campus as a 218-pound freshman. He weighed in at just over 250 pounds to start this camp.

The added weight was solid bulk, not blubber.

“I just needed to focus on all the little things, making sure I got the right rest, eating right, lifting hard,” he said. “Every little thing I did was focused on football.”

Is he afraid of stumbling under the weight of expectations?

“The expectations I have set for myself were already pretty high,” he said.

Extra points

The Cougars will hold their second scrimmage at 2:30 p.m. today. Head coach Paul Wulff said the first string will take on the second string for the first time this fall. … WSU receivers dropped a slew of passes on a blustery Thursday afternoon. Wulff wasn’t pleased, but was mildly understanding, noting that some of his top receivers weren’t there. Starters Brandon Gibson, Jeshua Anderson and Daniel Blackledge did not practice. Gibson, who was bothered by a sore neck, should participate today. … True freshman Jared Karstetter of Ferris saw plenty of reps with the first-team offense. And his performance lived up to his inexperience. He had a couple of nice catches and a couple of dropped passes.