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WSU’s Cracraft enjoys early success

Washington State receiver River Cracraft (84) is forced out of bounds by a Southern Utah player in September's game in Pullman.
 (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State receiver River Cracraft (84) is forced out of bounds by a Southern Utah player in September's game in Pullman. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Standing out as a wide receiver under football coach Mike Leach typically takes awhile.

Michael Crabtree – the tenth overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft – redshirted his first year at Texas Tech when Leach was the Red Raiders coach. Perennial NFL Pro-Bowl receiver Wes Welker didn’t break 1,000 yards receiving until his third year in Leach’s program.

Danny Amendola of the New England Patriots managed to play as a freshman, and caught all of 13 passes.

Which makes the success of Washington State receiver River Cracraft all the more remarkable.

The freshman from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., has 355 receiving yards for the Cougars and is picking up the pace. In WSU’s last two games – against Oregon and Arizona State, who could very well end up winning the Pac-12 North and South divisions, respectively – Cracraft caught nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

Leach credits the freshman’s early success to his attention to detail and ability to avoid distractions. And the head coach has some lofty praise for his first-year pass catcher.

“A guy I had in the past he reminds me of is Danny Amendola,” Leach said. “Not necessarily perfect, but if you need him to adjust something, he’s going to do it exactly like it was drawn up on the board, full speed.

“Guys like that you’ve got to make sure how you draw the lines on the board because they’ll duplicate it exactly,” Leach added.

That ability to follow directions to a tee has Cracraft’s coaches matching his level of focus.

Perhaps the only person not surprised by Cracraft’s ability to come in and contribute immediately is Cracraft himself.

“I could come in and compete,” Cracraft said. “I knew there were great receivers here but I thought if I worked hard I could earn a spot.”

Already a key contributor in Leach’s famed Air Raid offense, Cracraft is following in some big footsteps. But as a freshman starter whose role is continually expanding, he’s already a few steps ahead.

Finally, a game

Much like WSU’s Leach, Arizona boasts a head coach, Rich Rodriguez, who is as much known for his unique offense as with the schools where he’s coached.

With Patrick White and Steve Slaton at West Virginia, and Denard Robinson at Michigan, Rodriguez brought college football back to the days when quarterbacks rarely threw the ball, and strength of arm was far less important than fleetness of foot.

While Saturday’s matchup between the Cougars and Wildcats in Tucson will be the first time the veteran coaches have faced each other on the field, the two have gotten to know each other through their shared profession.

“I know him well; good guy. I’ve known him for a long time,” Leach said. “When I first knew him I was at Valdosta State and he was at Glenville State.”

While Leach’s offense is famous for its reliance on the passing game, Rodriguez likes to keep things on the ground. Both offenses adhere to the principles of getting the ball to playmakers in space and utilize a quick tempo to that end.

“I guess I’d categorize (the tempo) as similar to ours except when they really speed it up they go faster than we do and when they slow it down they go slower, where ours has always been kind of a steady, kind of the same unless we huddle,” Leach said.

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