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Camp in Idaho helped Cougars' camaraderie

Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Washington State's road to the Apple Cup started at a junior high school in Lewiston, Idaho, last summer.

That's where the Cougars held several weeks of training camp in August because of construction at their stadium in Pullman, 30 miles north of Lewiston.

Coaches and players say practicing on the fields of Sacajawea Junior High School, and staying in Lewiston, bred camaraderie among the players that has paid dividends this season.

Before last weekend's game with Utah, coaches handed out gray "Property of Sacajawea Junior High" T-shirts that many players wore under their uniforms. The Cougars (6-5, 4-4 Pac-12) beat Utah 49-37 to become bowl eligible.

"Going over there I feel was real important," safety Deone Bucannon said. "It let us focus on ourselves without distractions. You hang out with your teammates and then you go to sleep. It's more of a family and a bond that's created in that kind of environment and I think that really helped us this year."

Coaches had players room in Lewiston with those who played the opposite position. So Bucannon roomed with wide receiver River Cracraft.

Bucannon said that encouraged bonding between players who might not otherwise get to know each other.

Coach Mike Leach said he realized that many players on his young team would not know each other, and Lewiston was an opportunity for them to become familiar with one another.

"We wanted to get them well-acquainted and reinforce that everyone's role is important," Leach said. "I think it helped with that."

A football team is "a lot of moving parts," Leach said. "It's not just your specific position."

Cougar fans who are anticipating what could be their first bowl game in a decade will have to wait a bit longer to learn where the team is going, or if it's going anywhere at all. The Cougars are not guaranteed a bowl bid even though they're eligible for one.

Athletic director Bill Moos said that with a game left in the season, it is too early to speculate on the bowl prospects.

Nine schools from the Pac-12 are eligible and the league has seven bowl affiliates, meaning two programs will be looking for berths left open by leagues that couldn't fill their obligations.

"I really don't have anything," Moos said, "except that the conference is working hard to find a home for those who may not have been in contracted bowls."

"In a casual way I have been in touch with my contacts," Moos said. "But there are too many variables out there still."

The variables include the outcome of Friday's Apple Cup.

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