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Originally published October 2, 2014 at 3:39 PM | Page modified October 3, 2014 at 11:08 PM

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Cougars’ possession receiver River Cracraft named for a river in Scotland

River Clyde Cracraft is averaging eight receptions per game for the Cougars, and made a clutch catch on a third-down play late in Washington State’s victory at Utah.


Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

California @ WSU, 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

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The kid is awesome. He was a very, very big reason WSU struggled at Nevada as he could not play due to injury. They... MORE

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First, the name: River Cracraft’s grandfather Clyde was born and raised in Scotland, near the River Clyde. Ergo, River Clyde Cracraft.

Now the game: He isn’t the most explosive receiver around, but there might not be a more important figure in the Washington State passing game other than the quarterback, Connor Halliday.

“Not the biggest, not the fastest, not the strongest,” says his coach, Mike Leach. “But he’s focused.”

Cracraft, a 6-foot, 200-pound sophomore tied for second in the Pac-12 with eight receptions per game, is pretty much the definition of a possession receiver. And possession was never more important for the Cougars on Saturday night in Salt Lake City, when, down 27-21, they faced a third-and-three from their 15-yard line with less than six minutes left.

From his right slot position, Cracraft ran a flat route, Halliday led him perfectly, and with Utah defensive back Justin Thomas hounding him tightly, Cracraft converted the first down.

It was a mere 4-yard gain, but on the next play Halliday hit Vince Mayle for the game-winning 81-yard touchdown.

On a wet and windy night, that was the Cougars’ splashiest play, but it was Cracraft who led WSU with nine catches for 126 yards. Eight of them went for first downs, and the one that didn’t was for 15 yards on second-and-16 and led to one.

As much as anybody, he’s a go-to guy for Halliday. Just don’t go to him for a long, rambling soliloquy on his performance. Cracraft is taciturn and impassive, seemingly the perfect Leach player, a low-maintenance contributor immersed in his work. “He’s not a guy that’s got a bunch of outside things contaminating his thinking,” Leach said. “He works really hard, and the skills he does have, he elevates constantly.”

When WSU publicists corralled him recently for part of a routine, three-player Monday news conference, Cracraft’s segment was designed to last 10 minutes. But reporters had exhausted their questions, and Cracraft his answers, in 6 minutes, 51 seconds.

For a variety of reasons, Cracraft has been a pivotal figure in WSU’s season. His late, uncharacteristic fumble on a punt against Rutgers was a key play, and his absence with an undisclosed injury hurt the Cougars in a second loss against Nevada.

He came to WSU from Santa Margarita (Calif.) High School, which produced athletes like Carson Palmer and Klay Thompson. Cracraft’s 2013 class included Nebraska backup quarterback Johnny Stanton; Washington offensive lineman Dane Crane and linebacker Connor O’Brien; Boise State running back Ryan Wolpin; and WSU offensive linemen Riley Sorenson and Nick Begg.

“Washington State was the first visit I took and my first scholarship offer,” Cracraft says. “Obviously, I looked at the schools around my area, but they had no interest in me.”

Cracraft’s arc has been an eye-opener to at least one person — Skyler, his older brother by two years, who walked on at WSU this year as a safety.

“Honestly, one of the reasons I decided to play was because, growing up, I would never, ever have thought or said he was better than me,” Skyler said. “I’m not saying I was better than him.

“He always played up with my friends. He’d be the little kid, and that made him better. So when he’d play with his friends, he’d have such an edge over them. In Little League, he’d be breaking records and hitting home run after home run.”

The brothers are close, and when River committed to WSU, Skyler would join him studying film. And he began to see a driven player.

“That summer before he came up, he just busted his butt,” Skyler said. “Nobody was really pushing him. But he didn’t hang out, he didn’t go out on the weekend. It was all just football, football, training.”

The brothers have the distinction of having played against each other in high school. Skyler transferred early to Tesoro High, which beat Santa Margarita with a big comeback in 2010.

“I had the upper hand,” says Skyler, conceding that River had a reception against him. “I was a senior and he was a sophomore.”

Skyler attended junior college and is now trying to work his way up the depth chart at WSU. His brother’s place seems secure, not that you’ll get him to say that.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com



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