ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nobody contests the notion that Washington State’s improvement in 2013 had a lot to do with advancement by its offensive line. And hardly anybody disagrees with the idea that last year, it stunk.
That trajectory describes aptly what happened to John Fullington, a senior tackle from North Mason High in Belfair, Wash., who is expected to make his 43rd straight start Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl, tying for second in the history of the school.
“I feel I had a pretty good freshman and sophomore year,” Fullington said. “Last year, I didn’t, for whatever reason. Just kind of mentally, something was wrong. Maybe I was thinking too much.”
He gets no argument from his position coach, Clay McGuire, on the matter of his third season at WSU.
“It didn’t go how John wanted it,” McGuire said after a bowl practice this week, “or how anybody wanted it.
“It wasn’t a great year for anybody.”
Not only did McGuire struggle to get across new techniques, Fullington admits he sometimes didn’t respond to the criticism.
“I’m better at learning from it,” he said. “McGuire doesn’t give like terrible criticism — not like ‘Your mom is a terrible person’ — (but) at times he coaches maybe harder than I’ve had in the past.”
McGuire doesn’t deny that he can be a taskmaster. He played for WSU coach Mike Leach at Texas Tech, and one of Leach’s primary areas of expertise is the line.
“Coming up through coach Leach’s system, the coaches I always had were really honest about the way we were playing,” McGuire says. “There wasn’t a lot of gray area, it was black and white.”
With Fullington, it’s never been about physical conditioning. He earned black shirts for superior work in WSU’s winter “Midnight Maneuvers,” but that didn’t translate to the field until 2013, when he helped the line trim its sack total from a ghoulish 57 to 27.
“He showed a lot of character and determination, last year to this year,” says McGuire.
Indeed, Fullington (6 feet 5, 301 pounds) drew this praise from fellow senior Elliott Bosch, the most dependable player on that line, following the Utah game that gave WSU six wins:
“He’ll probably hate me for saying this,” said Bosch. “But he’s definitely the most improved guy in our group. He’s had the most potential of anyone. I’m really proud of him.”
A 43rd straight start by Fullington would tie him with former lineman Micah Hannam (2007-10) for second behind Travis Long, who started his first 47 games through last season.
Coincidentally, the center for Colorado State, WSU’s opponent Saturday, one-ups Fullington. Weston Richburg will make successive start No. 50 for the Rams, after growing up in the Texas panhandle, two hours from Leach’s spawning ground at Texas Tech.
“I’m a big Mike Leach fan,” said Richburg. “I love Mike Leach. He was getting some gaudy numbers at Texas Tech.”
Fullington thinks gaudy will be a useful adjective for the Cougars’ offense in the future.
“I definitely faced quite a bit of adversity, losing so much, and the coaching change,” said Fullington. “It’s built my character. I think the guys coming in right now are coming in at the right time.”