An already thin Washington State Cougars running back group just got a bit thinner, as it appears incoming freshman Jamir Thomas will be unable to academically qualify out of high school, according to a report by Theo Lawson of the Spokesman-Review.
Lawson’s source characterized Thomas as an “extreme long shot” to qualify. When he signed, Thomas — who picked WSU over a slew of high major offers, reportedly because the Cougars were willing to let him play running back rather than linebacker — was expected to compete for the primary backup spot behind Max Borghi.
However, there was some very, very good news out of media day: former Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back (by way of junior college) Deon McIntosh is on campus and ready to go.
McIntosh was added extremely late in the 2019 cycle and could prove to be a major boon for the Cougars. Instead of relying on converted linebacker Cole Dubots as the primary backup to Borghi — and for all his good hard work in the spring, I got the sense that nobody around the program was comfortable with that idea — WSU is confirmed to be adding an experienced runner who has proven he can excel against Power Five competition after he rushed for 368 yards as a redshirt freshman at Notre Dame.
After initially being unsure whether he could comment on McIntosh at media day — “I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about him or not ...” — Mike Leach eventually called his new running back “really explosive,” noting that he’s added 10 pounds since arriving in Pullman.
“You can see that on film,” Leach said. “Comes out of his cuts really fast. The other thing you didn’t really see much on the Notre Dame film, in high school he had good hands. Really good hands. But yeah, he’s explosive, so we’re kind of excited about him. See how it goes.”
It’s quite the shake-up in the running back unit from the end of 2018. The team went from figuring to have a second year of the James Williams/Borghi 1-2 punch that was so successful last year, to now having just one player with any carries in Crimson and Gray.
WSU RB Depth Chart
|Depth||2018||2019 Projected||2019 Actual|
|Depth||2018||2019 Projected||2019 Actual|
|RB1||James Williams (Jr.)||James Williams (Sr.)||Max Borghi (So.)|
|RB2||Max Borghi (Fr.)||Max Borghi (So.)||Deon McIntosh (RS-Jr.)|
|RB3||Keith Harrington (RS-Sr.)||Jamir Thomas (Fr.)||Cole Dubots (RS-So.)|
That said, I think it’s possible that the 2019 combination of Borghi and McIntosh proves to actually be better than the 2018 combo of Williams and Borghi. Assuming a measure of improvement from Borghi, he should be better than Williams was a year ago — there’s a pretty strong argument to be made he was already as good as Williams as a true freshman. And then you add a second team juco all-American as his primary backup — someone who was reasonably productive at a high major and had a slew of high major offers out of high school — and that’s a tantalizing combination.
(It’s also possible that this is just the optimism of preseason!)
Some might worry about Dubots being the third back; it’s worth noting that Williams and Borghi combined for 93% of WSU’s running back touches last year, while Williams and Jamal Morrow combined for 85% of the touches in 2017. As long as Borghi and McIntosh stay healthy (fingers crossed/pounding on wood/quickly preparing burnt offering to the football gods), it shouldn’t matter.
The other 2019 running back signing, Jouvensly Bazil, arrived on campus with the rest of the freshmen at the beginning of summer; however, at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, he always seemed to be a prime candidate for either a redshirt or kick return duties.
As for Thomas, who was the No. 2 ranked player in the Cougars 2019 class? There is no further clarity as to what the plan is for him if he doesn’t qualify, but these sorts of situations typically don’t result in the player ever making it to school with the team with which they signed. (Although, Sean Harper did exactly that.) It’s unclear if a grayshirt is an option; I’m not sure if you have to have qualified academically out of high school in order to enroll midyear, or if that would provide extra time to get things in order. Most of the time, in this scenario, a player heads off to a junior college and resurfaces two years later.
This also probably explains why WSU is planning on signing two running backs again in 2020 after doing that in 2019. For years, the Cougars signed one running back per class; however, repeated attrition following that strategy is what left them perilously thin heading into this season. WSU already has secured 2020 commitments from three-star prospects Jyden King and Marshawn Buchanan; King is the more physical prospect, while Buchanan is a home run threat.