LEWISTON — It’s almost a sure bet. If you ask Mike Leach about the progress of Dezmon Patmon, he’ll call him a receiver who doesn’t understand his own physical strength.

By now, however, after spending three seasons eliciting gasps and exclamations for his difficult catches in traffic, Patmon realizes he’s no cream puff. Otherwise he wouldn’t be going shirtless for a post-practice interview before a pack of TV cameras and expressing his gratitude — twice in five minutes — to WSU strength and conditioning coach Tyson Brown.

“Football is a game of strength,” Patmon said Tuesday after the Cougars’ fifth session of preseason camp. “When I’m 6-4, 225, and all the corners are 5-11 and 180, obviously being stronger and faster than them is an advantage.”

Patmon sprinted, leapt and hand-battled his way to repeated touchdown catches during skeleton and team periods amid 100-degree conditions at Sacajawea Junior High in Lewiston. Anthony Gordon and Gage Gubrud, the featured quarterbacks for the day, both displayed a rapport with the senior outside receiver from San Diego as the offense bounced back from a spotty practice the previous day.

It’s not as if Patmon has gained a tremendous amount of weight since his true-freshman season in 2016. He says it’s been 13 pounds. But they’ve been quality pounds, and he’s learning to use his size to fend off defenders while the ball is in the air.

“When you first get up to college, I mean, shoot, I was going out there competing,” he said, “but every day coach Leach, or coach (Dave) Nichol or whoever, would say, “Dez, you’ve got to play to your size.’ And eventually in the weight room, I think, going out there and feeling more confident with how you play, I definitely started playing to my size more.”

The confidence became more apparent midway through last season, and Patmon finished the year with 61 catches to bring his career total to 98. He and fellow outside receivers Tay Martin, Easop Winston Jr. and Calvin Jackson Jr. combined for 208 receptions that year, and they’re all back this season.

The slotback position is hardly less loaded. Travell Harris (27 catches last year) and Renard Bell (20) are joined now by second-year freshman Kassidy Woods, whose 6-4 stature is adding a new dimension to the inside attack. Also back is Jamire Calvin, who missed spring drills with an injury and continues to sit out, his right leg in a boot.

Patmon said the Cougars’ Air Raid offense and recent success, culminating in an 11-2 season last year, has made WSU a more attractive destination for receivers.

“Everybody says it’s kind of hard to recruit to Pullman, just because it’s a small little town,” he said. “But when you start winning games, people want to flock to you. So I think over the past four years since I’ve been here, even the year before me, we’ve been winning games, showing everybody we can compete with everybody in the nation.”

But some things haven’t changed. After Patmon’s terrific performance Tuesday, Leach was asked for an assessment.

“Getting better — a work in progress,” he said. “I mean, he’s one of those guys that doesn’t realize how big and strong he is.”

Mauigoa on watch list

Cougars center Fred Mauigoa was named Tuesday to the preseason watch list for the Polynesian Player of the Year award. The senior from American Samoa was included on the same list in 2018, and then-WSU defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa won the award in 2017.

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

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