Three Washington State football position groups to watch this spring

Apr. 6—Who will replace prolific and electric Washington State quarterback Cam Ward?

That is one of the many questions the Cougars are hoping to start answering during spring football practice.

WSU will hold its first scrimmage of the spring at 10:45 a.m. today at Gesa Field in Pullman.

The Cougars return 37 letterwinners from last year's squad that went 5-7 under fourth-year coach Jake Dickert — 15 on offense, 20 on defense and two on special teams.

The scrimmage is open to the public.

Here are three position groups to watch as the Cougars get into the meat of their 15 spring practice sessions, culminating with the annual Crimson and Gray game on April 27.


WSU, surprisingly, didn't lose many players to the NCAA transfer portal despite the collapse of the Pac-12 Conference in the fall, but one departure was arguably the best player on the team.

After first declaring for the NFL draft, quarterback Cam Ward took his 13,871 passing yards and 135 total touchdowns to the Miami Hurricanes.

For the first time in three years, WSU will have a new quarterback.

The frontrunner is Wards' backup from the last two seasons, sophomore John Mateer. The Little Elm, Texas, native mostly came in as a run-package quarterback.

Mateer went 13-of-17 passing (76.5%) for 235 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in 11 games last season. He rushed for 93 yards and three touchdowns on an 4.4 average.

Mateer's biggest competition is Bryant transfer Zevi Eckhaus, who last season was voted the Big South offensive player of the year at the Football Championship Subdivision level. The senior passed for 2,907 yards, 28 touchdowns and averaged 264.3 yards per game en route to being a Walter Payton Award finalist.

"It's going well," Mateer said of the quarterback competition. "I think overall for both of us we're competing, we're making each other better, watching each other during all the reps.

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"I'm learning from him, he's learning from me in the film room. He's a great dude. It's been fun."


It'll be a strange locker room in the fall for the Cougs without graduated captains and longtime team leaders Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr.

The duo had a plethora of huge moments during their long tenures — including a pair of forced fumbles by Stone and returns for touchdowns by Jackson in wins against Wisconsin and Colorado last season — but the biggest loss will be their vocal leadership.

One returner to watch at the position is former defensive tackle Nusi Malani. The 6-foot-4, 286-pound junior tallied 24 tackles, four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last season.

The biggest standout through the first five practices might be Utah Tech transfer Syrus Webster. The 6-4, 245-pound senior had 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks last season in the FCS ranks.

Webster is out to prove he belongs at this level and he's impressed defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding so far.

"His maturity has really blown me away," Schmedding said. "We thought that when we recruited him, but I think if you asked anybody on our defense or our team, he's one of the more mature players. He's got leadership qualities and I think the best is yet to come."


Former WSU strong safety Jaden Hicks will likely be on an NFL roster somewhere when the Cougars kickoff their 2024-25 season on the last day of August against Portland State.

Free safety Sam Lockett is also gone.

That opens the door for a wide-open competition in the secondary that will likely go through all of fall camp.

The good news for the Cougs is senior nickel Kapena Gushiken returns. Gushiken, who had 36 tackles on the season and an interception return for a touchdown against UCLA, is the most-experienced returner in the Cougar secondary.

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.