BOULDER — When Max Borghi departed for Washington State as an early enrollee in January, he did so having conquered Colorado high school football. He led Pomona to the Class 5A state title as a senior running back and won the Gold Helmet award for the state’s most outstanding player.
But as he acknowledged then — shortly after spurning a late offer from Stanford — his name and storied prep accomplishments had zero cache outside The Centennial State. Upon his arrival amid the often-biting wind of the Palouse, Borghi put his head down and went to work in spring camp, quickly re-making a name for himself as a uniquely ready freshman.
“Early on, it was a big-play-at-every-practice type of thing,” WSU running backs coach Eric Mele explained. “He just kept on showing up every day and making plays, and you were kind of waiting for him to hit that freshman wall, and he never did. He just continuously improved.”
After entering spring at the bottom of the depth chart, by the middle of fall camp Borghi had asserted himself as the widely utilized second back in the air raid offense alongside redshirt junior James Williams.
And, as demonstrated by Borghi’s homecoming Saturday in the Cougars’ victory over the reeling Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12), the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder with 4.38 40-yard-dash speed isn’t done wowing just yet as No. 8 Washington State (9-1, 6-1) is turning in the best season in the Pac-12.
“The individual success is even better because everyone was projecting us to go 3-9 and have a horrible season,” said Borghi, who originally verbally committed to CU before flipping to WSU. “It’s been fun proving everyone wrong, and it’s pretty much us versus everybody, it feels like.”
In front of around 300-plus of his family and friends, Borghi had 72 total yards and a touchdown in the 31-7 blowout at Folsom Field. His score came on a swing pass midway through the second quarter as the running back made several Buffaloes miss to give Washington State its first lead. His final tally on the day brought his season total to 283 yards and six TDs rushing with 238 yards with four TDs receiving.
In all, it was just a typical day for the elusive freshman who arrived in Boulder ranked seventh in the nation in catches by a running back and missed tackles by a running back on pass plays.
Borghi’s ability to run, catch and pass protect — a facet of his game Mele noted has progressed quickly this season — enabled the 19-year-old to carve out a key role for himself in the attack coordinated by transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew, despite the fact that Borghi hasn’t broken more than 100 total offensive yards in any one game this season.
Ironically, it was during one of Borghi’s lower-yardage outputs — a three-rush, four-catch night in Washington State’s lone loss of 2018, a Sept. 21 game at USC — that the coaching staff knew they weren’t going to see Borghi hit a “freshman wall” at any point this season.
“That USC game was one of the final hurdles for us knowing, as far as what he had as an individual,” Mele said. “He ran over a couple safeties at the goal line, at their place, and it was like, ‘OK. There’s no sign of this guy slowing down at this point.’”
And for a player who has earned the label of “freak” from his teammates and “Mad Max” for his growing legions of fans on Twitter, Borghi’s future as one of the centerpieces of the high-powered Washington State attack is only sure to keep propelling him into the national spotlight. Everyone, from Martin Stadium in Pullman to the Pomona practice field in Arvada and eastward from there, should know his name in time.
“Now, it’s about refining his skills and where he’s at in things like that,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “Like anybody, I think he’ll get stronger and faster — and he’s well on his way — but I don’t know what his ceiling is, because we’re kind of in the business of not having ceilings.”
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