By Theo Lawson | McClatchy News Service
PULLMAN — For about a month, Oregon football fans stumbled on one piece of crushing news after another whenever they opened social media. Or, it must have felt that way.
First, it was Outland Trophy-winning tackle Penei Sewell, then standout cornerback Deommodore Lenoir, followed by another cornerback, Thomas Graham Jr., Jevon Holland and eventually Brady Breeze.
It spread elsewhere in the Pac-12 North: Levi Onwuzurike and Joe Tryon of Washington, Walker Little and Paulson Adebo of Stanford.
Washington State fans had to be skittish. When would all-conference running back Max Borghi join the laundry list of high-profile Pac-12 football players opting out of the 2020 season to get a head start on NFL Draft prep?
In truth, those who watch Borghi play on TV probably pondered that idea more than the running back himself.
“No, I only ever considered opting in when everything was going wrong,” Borghi said. “I was like, I want to play. This is why I’m here and I love football and I want to play no matter what it takes.”
No, Borghi isn’t garnering the same pre-Draft buzz as Oregon’s Sewell, UW’s Onwuzurike or many of the other premier Pac-12 opt-outs, but Borghi, with 2,154 all-purpose yards and 28 touchdowns, could’ve followed in their footsteps without getting mush pushback.
It wouldn’t have hurt to consult a few family members or coaches, right? Borghi, the only Power Five football player in 2019 with 800 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and at least 16 TDs, says he didn’t even get that far in the process.
“I made that decision on my own,” Borghi said, reiterating “I love the game of football, I would never opt out.”
It’s all irrelevant now, because one way or the other, Borghi is back — his bruising runs, high hurdles and seemingly endless production — and after a nine-month layoff, the junior has been starving to strap on football pads and bulldoze through something not wearing a gray helmet or crimson pants.
Borghi and the Cougars have such an opportunity in the season opener Nov. 7 at Oregon State. An all-purpose back who fit seamlessly into Mike Leach’s Air Raid will be asked to take on a different role this year, playing in Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot.
“What excites you the most about this new offense?” Pac-12 Networks host Ashley Adamson asked Borghi.
“Running the ball, obviously,” Borghi responded. “The run-and-shoot is definitely different from Mike Leach’s Air Raid, so I’m excited for just the different concepts of run reads that I have, some power, some outside zone and different types of speed option stuff. It’s going to be exciting, It’s going to be a lot more explosive.
“I’m excited for myself in it and for the rest of the running backs. I think we’re really going to enjoy [it].”
For a player who hopes to climb a few rounds on NFL Draft boards by demonstrating he can thrive as a run-first tailback, Borghi should view the 2020 season as a blank canvas.
In his first two seasons with the Cougars, Borghi had 199 rushing attempts. Comparatively, Hawaii’s leading rusher, Miles Reed, had 174 carries in 2019 alone. Reed had only three receptions to Borghi’s 86, but the WSU junior is willing to sacrifice if it means offering glimpses of his prowess as a rusher.
“I’m grateful for what I did the last two years, I think it was good to get some film of me catching the ball, and still run it a little bit,” Borghi said. “But now this is my year to prove who I am and prove why I’m a running back and what I’m capable of. I’m definitely interested to do all these run schemes, because I know I’m a great runner, and I know I can prove it to the whole country.
“I just need the opportunity.”