Dickert: Player development still the key

Washington State coach Jake Dickert speaks at the podium at a news conference Dec. 2 at Beasley Coliseum.

As of this week, all three quarterbacks who’d competed long and hard for a starting role during Washington State’s 2020 preseason football workouts have vamoosed and are with other schools. As of Tuesday, the Cougar heir apparent at that position hadn’t arrived yet in Pullman.

In other words, there’s no denying the relevance of the NCAA transfer portal in today’s game.

But new coach Jake Dickert is reiterating, as he begins his tenure in earnest, his vow to prioritize the recruitment and development of high school players.

“You’re either going to be a talent-acquisition program in the portal or you’re going to be a developmental program,” Dickert said in an online news conference Tuesday that covered a range of topics. “What I want do to with our program, it’s going to be a little bit of a mixture, but I want to be a developmental program where we find the right guys for Washington State.”

Dickert also talked about new quarterback Cameron Ward — fresh from the portal — and the latest news on his coaching staff, including the departure of veteran secondary coach Mark Banker, who turned down a chance to stay at the school and “I think there’s a lot of sunshine and golf in his future.” He stopped short of saying Banker is retiring.

Dickert’s comments about player development came in the context of the Cougars’ recent attrition at offensive line, where Abe Lucas, Liam Ryan and Brian Greene are relinquishing their final year of eligibility and Cade Beresford is transferring to Boise State. All four started multiple games in 2021.

The coach said he’s not going to search for replacements exclusively in the portal.

“I’ve said this from the moment I sat in this chair — we need to rebuild this roster,” said Dickert, who was named permanent head coach at the end of the 2021 regular season. “We need to re-energize this program. We need to refocus everyone from the top down. That doesn’t happen in one week. It just doesn’t.

“We’ve entered into a new world of college football. That portal has really changed that. It’s changed the whole landscape. It’s not just our program. It’s a lot of programs out there, where you can lose a position group and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to keep working to fix it, so we’re working hard to fix it. There’s going to be a mixture of guys that we’re vetting as transfer players. But there’s also going to be guys that we’re excited to see these last three weeks, to really develop young guys in our program.”

He was alluding to signing day Feb. 2.

Ward, the heralded transfer quarterback from Incarnate Word, will enroll for the spring semester, Dickert confirmed, and he was on his way to Pullman.

“I think he’s got a special skill set, but what I’ve gravitated to the most about Cam is leadership, his confidence, the way I believe he can bring a locker room together,” Dickert said.

“Then you turn the tape on, and the throws he makes, regardless of level, I think are special. I think he’s got a lot of upside in our program.”

He essentially replaces Jayden de Laura, who entered the portal five days ago and announced Monday he’s headed for Arizona. The same day, it was learned former WSU quarterback Camm Cooper, who entered the portal in November, was starting anew at Hawaii.

There’s been no lack of rumors and speculation about the reason for de Laura’s departure, but “I would like to put all that to bed,” Dickert said. “There’s been no ‘situation.’ I just wish Jayden the best.”

Banker, 65, who coached WSU safeties and nickelbacks the past two years, turned down a contract extension “for personal reasons,” said Dickert, who also confirmed Xavier Cooper is being retained as edge rushers coach and Jordan Malone will remain part of the on-field coaching staff. Also part of Cooper’s job title is will be run defense coordinator.

Malone began the 2021 season as a defensive analyst but began overseeing cornerbacks when five coaches, including head coach Nick Rolovich, were fired Oct. 18 for failing to comply with a state vaccination mandate. Malone will coach either safeties or corners, depending on whom Dickert tabs for the remaining secondary spot.

Dickert said he’ll announce this week the hiring of a coach whose responsibilities will include tutoring tight ends, a position being restored at WSU after a decade’s absence. That coach will also coordinate special teams, with help from Cooper.

Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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