Middle linebacker battle big one for Cougars | WSU football
Three players vying for starting role; position coach likes depth there
PULLMAN — Washington State has its share of position battles this fall, but none is more important than the one to see who starts at middle linebacker in the opener Sept. 4 at Oklahoma State.
Will it be lightly used senior Hallston Higgins? Junior Mike Ledgerwood, who made a name for himself in last year's Apple Cup? Or will it be the prized recruit, C.J. Mizell, the freshman from Florida who sat out last year before finally deciding to play in Pullman?
"With the guys who are out here practicing, we have to formulate a two-deep somehow, some way and they have to perform at a high level," said WSU coach Paul Wulff on Tuesday after the Cougars' third practice, their first wearing shoulder pads.
The battle really hasn't been joined fully as yet because Alex Hoffman-Ellis, penciled in to start on the weak side, has yet to go full speed due to a balky back.
With Hoffman-Ellis not scrimmaging, Ledgerwood has slid over, filling in at a position he's played in the past. That's left Higgins, who has opened eyes with his play since spring, starting, and Mizell learning the spot as the backup.
"It's not a terrible thing because we've got some depth there, which means competition is going to be good," said linebackers coach Travis Niekamp. "Guys are going to have to come out every day and have great practices."
So who will win the fight for a position Wulff terms crucial? Ask the three players, and they all have different reasons why they should be the one.
Ledgerwood: "Played it all my life. That's the one thing I've always wanted to do in college football, play middle linebacker. My goal is to play that position."
Higgins: "I bring a lot of speed to the middle-linebacker position. A lot of intensity, a lot of heart, will and I'm a headhunter. I'm going to make that hit, I'm going to get the ball down."
Mizell: "I'm just going to go all out for the team and do my job every down. I'll give it everything I've got."
At an athletic 6 feet 2 and 225 pounds, Mizell has a lot to give. He runs better than the other candidates, but at times Tuesday that quickness got him in trouble as he overpursued and lost containment.
"He brings the athleticism you would like to see," Niekamp said. "He's young, he's got a ways to go."
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