PULLMAN – Andre Dillard is either trying to pump up his young teammate or send a deflating message to his defensive counterparts on the other side of the line of scrimmage. He’s probably accomplishing both.
Whenever Max Borghi cracks a big run, the soft-spoken, even-tempered Dillard comes to life: “He’s in high school! He’s in high school!” the Washington State senior left tackle chants.
Dillard’s jabs are coming more frequently as the Cougars progress through spring camp, which, same as Borghi’s college football career, turned 10 days old Thursday afternoon at Martin Stadium.
The way Borghi’s been running, though, it feels like 10 going on 1,000.
“I think every day from the start has been a good day for Max Borghi,” WSU coach Mike Leach said.
“That kid’s a freak, just to be honest with you,” Dillard added.
“I’m glad he’s on our team, that’s for sure,” redshirt junior quarterback Trey Tinsley said.
“Max, for a freshman coming in, he’s built for college football already,” running backs coach Eric Mele said.
The true freshman running back should be tracking down a prom date right now and participating in the senior-specific activities Pomona (Colorado) High School is offering to its Class of 2018. Borghi’s friends and classmates at Pomona will be putting on their graduation caps and gowns on May 17. He’ll have already spent near 50 hours practicing – and many more weight training – with the Pac-12 Cougars.
By then, Borghi may have already climbed a few rungs up the running back depth chart.
“It’d be tough to kind of beat those other guys out,” Mele said, “but every day goes by and he’s kind of closing the gap a little bit.”
“Those other guys” are James Williams, a shifty, elusive junior who led WSU in total carries last season (92), and Keith Harrington, a fifth-year senior who has experience as a starter. Borghi can’t match the experience those two have playing on Saturdays – Williams and Harrington have combined to make 52 appearances – so he’s finding other ways to distinguish himself this spring.
“He runs really hard and when you watch tape, he’s always falling forward,” Tinsley said. “He’s always getting that extra yard. If it’s a 2-yard loss, he’s getting back to the line of scrimmage. If he’s getting to the line, he’s got a hole, he’s going.”
Midway through WSU’s 11-on-11 team period on Thursday, he collected a handoff from QB Cammon Cooper, darted between two blockers and lowered his shoulder into Deion Singleton, knocking the safety on his back. Borghi wrestled away another tackler, Dylan Axelson, before finally being pushed out of bounds at the end of a 35-yard gain.
Borghi’s spring highlight reel is scattered with plays like that.
“He’s a 200-pound kid, but you look at him, tight waist and he’s rocked up,” Mele said. “He’s thick, he’s thicker than you expect. You kind of don’t see it in the pads, but he’s got a low center of gravity, shoulder pads are over his knees, which enables him to kind of run people over and keep his feet going and kind of always fall forward, which is a great quality to have.”
Borghi totaled 3,512 rushing yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons at Pomona, but what makes him the quintessential Air Raid running back is his aptitude for catching the football. To supplement his monster rushing numbers, Borghi also caught 79 passes for 1,113 yards and 10 touchdowns as a high school player. He returned a punt and a kick for a touchdown during his senior season, and the Cougars have designs on using him in the game’s third phase this fall.
“We knew if he came, he’d be a nice fit with our offense because he can catch, too, out of the backfield and he can do all that stuff,” Williams said. “He can get us to our third year straight of getting 1,000/1,000 (rushing yards/passing yards), so that’s our goal again.”
Borghi could be taking carries away from Williams in September, but the third-year running back is still making a point to tutor his younger teammate as he proceeds through his debut spring camp. Granted, Williams admits he hasn’t had to do much.
“He’s picking up everything faster than I did honestly and he’s getting a lot more reps and he’s really doing good,” Willams said. “He’s impressing everybody.”
And to think, the kid’s still in high school.