PULLMAN — Some might have wondered what highly recruited running back Max Borghi was thinking when he chose to play for Washington State in coach Mike Leach’s “Air Raid” system.
While quarterbacks rack up astounding yardage in the system, carries can sometimes be few and far between. That didn’t matter to Borghi, who rushed for 1,690 yards as a senior at Pomona High School in Arvada, Colo. (a suburb of Denver), and was the state player of the year while leading his team to the 5A state title.
“Obviously, people are going to ask that, but I think it’s just fine playing in the Air Raid,” said Borghi, who caught 89 passes in high school. “I think it showcases all of my abilities, not just running the ball, but catching the ball as well. And if I make it to the next level, I would be doing both of those things. So I thought why not show all of my abilities at the college level, and I am happy I am here.”
Borghi, a quick and sturdy 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds, had all his skills on display as a freshman at WSU last season, rushing for 366 yards on 72 carries (5.1 yards a carry) and catching 53 passes for 374 yards while splitting time with James Williams. Borghi also scored 12 touchdowns (eight rushing, four receiving).
With Williams leaving for the NFL, Borghi is the team’s most experienced running back and big things are expected. He was named to the Doak Walker Award (nation’s top running back) Watch List, and was preseason All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
Borghi often gets compared to Christian McCaffrey, another star running back from Colorado of similar size with multiple skills. McCaffrey is now with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers.
“He was definitely someone I watched as his career unfolded in front of me,” Borghi said.
But while McCaffrey chose Stanford, Borghi said he loved everything about WSU.
“The coaches, the facilities, Pullman, the Cougs, Cougar Nation, and being in a college town,” he said. “Obviously, the Air Raid is a little different, but I am happy with my choice. And I think the next season is going to be a good one.”
For WSU, it helps that Borghi likes catching the ball and running it equally.
“I just like making plays, I don’t really care how,” he said. “I like making plays and scoring touchdowns.”
Borghi said he had no idea what to expect in his first season at WSU, “and playing in my first game was quite a shocker, going from high school to the college level.”
In the end, he was satisfied with his results, which helped WSU finish 11-2, the most wins in a season in program history.
Williams is gone, but the Cougars still have some depth at running back, including junior Deon McIntosh, who rushed for 358 yards as a freshman at Notre Dame. Fullback Clay Markoff could also be in the mix after looking good in fall camp.
But Borghi figures to get the bulk of playing time, and he said he has been working hard to be ready.
“I’ve worked on my route running in general, getting open and finding the hole and sitting in space, and then bursting after I catch the ball,” he said. “And then running the ball, just keeping my pad level low and running downhill like I like to.”
Borghi said he does not have number goals for this season, “but someday in my career I would like to do 1,000 (yards rushing) and 1,000 (yards receiving) in a season,” he said. “That would be crazy. I am not sure that’s ever been done in college before, but I think that’s something that is possible.”
The sophomore is certainly more comfortable this summer, after feeling “like a deer in the headlights” last year. He knows the expectations are high.
“I try not to listen to the noise,” he said. “But I am excited for the season because it’s going to be a chance to show the country who I am.”