Yesterday, I invited a couple WSU recruiting experts to come fill us in on how the Washington State football class of 2014 is shaping up. Braulio Perez, a Senior Correspondent at Cougfan.com and Britton Ransford, the publisher of WazzuWatch.com, were kind enough to answer some questions. Part 1 of that interview can be read here, and part 2 is after the jump.
Q: What seems to be coach Mike Leach's recruiting strategy? Does he handle most of the recruiting personally or delegate to assistants?
Leach decides whether a prospect gets offered or not, so ultimate authority rests with him. With that being said, the assistant coaches are hugely vital. I hate to mix baseball with football but you could make the case that the WSU assistants are the starting and relief pitchers, while Mike Leach is Mariano Rivera and comes in for the close. Each Washington State assistant is responsible for a regional area and at the same time, WSU uses a group recruiting approach.
An example of this is outside linebackers coach Paul Volero. Although he coaches the outside linebackers, he's inside wide receiver commit Keith Harrington's area recruiter down in Florida. In an interview I had with Harrington on Monday night, Harrington said one of the main reasons he committed to WSU in late May, sight unseen, was because of his relationship with Volero. Those kinds of bonds have proven to be common with all of the Cougar assistants.
Prospects and their families love Leach. He’s a delight to have in the home, a storyteller that can make you laugh and think, but also will be straightforward with a family. I think that’s what this staff shares is an ability to connect with prospects without selling them on something they wouldn’t be able to deliver. A word you hear on every recruiting call is “family”, and that’s what they’re selling – a chance to be a part of a family, but also be an integral part of turning this WSU program into something special.
Leach has said on multiple occasions that this is the best recruiting staff he’s been a part of and I think that echoes throughout the prospects I’ve talked with. He trusts his recruiters and that’s what has made this turnaround possible, especially on the recruiting trail.
Q: With the caveat that nothing is set in stone until signing day, about how many spots remain in WSU's recruiting class? Do you expect the Cougars to finish strong?
WSU has 19 known verbal commitments and four additional mid-year enrollees. There are a few kids they’ll find room for should they pull the trigger, but I would expect this class to wind up with 24 signees, give or take one or two.
They’ve put themselves in solid position with a number of prospects, particularly local four-stars Marcus Griffin and Kaleb McGary, but I don’t expect them to land any really big surprise prospects heading into signing day.
One thing Leach and staff have been able to do consistently is evaluate and find talent, which is their strongest asset, in my opinion. If the cards fall their way, they could finish very strong, but if their No. 1 option falls through, they usually have a very solid backup plan in mind.
WSU currently has 20 known verbals plus three who delayed enrollment from the previous class, for a total of 23. The rules changed last year -- the most a school can sign each year is 25. WSU is still after, and in the mix, for several top rated recruits. This includes OT Kaley McGary, DT Marcus Griffin, WR Brayden Lenius, LB Xavier Ulutu, LB Patrick Choudja, DE Austin Maloata and others. I could see WSU adding several more prospects and end up over the 25 allowed signees. If this were the case, WSU could delay the enrollment until next January beyond the 25 new initials and have them become members of the 2015 class.
One thing to note, though, is that the old "grayshirting" rules are no longer in place. Those who delay enrollment now no longer can sign a Letter of Intent, so therefore there is no binding agreement on either side. Nick Begg, who arrived to WSU earlier this month, is an example of this. He had a verbal agreement with Arizona State to head to Tempe as a January enrollee, but he later chose Washington State instead.
Q: Who are three players who are expected to sign with WSU that could contribute immediately and why? Who are three that could be big contributions down the road?
Limiting it to just three is tough – I could make a very strong case for multiple players beyond that. But, if you’re going to hold me to three, I’ll go with Pasadena Junior College offensive tackle Miguel Machado, College of San Mateo cornerback Joseph Turner and De La Salle High cornerback Kevin Griffin. With Machado, he checks in at 6-6, 285-pounds and plays with some nastiness. In watching his game film, the guy serves up more pancake blocks than your local breakfast buffet. With right tackle John Fullington graduating, I think Machado could step in right away and compete for that starting spot.
Turner (6-2, 190) and Griffin (6-1, 180), both have the physical attributes defensive coordinator Mike Breske looks for in corners – he likes them tall. In my most recent conversation with College of San Mateo Defensive Coordinator Tim Tulloch, he said Turner is a big and physical cornerback, who can jam a receiver at the line and go get the ball at its highest point to make a play. With Griffin, he's a surefire tackler and also has that playmaking ability in him. When I watch his film, he just looks fluid and has good hips. I think he has the chance to be a special player for Washington State and make an impact early.
As for guys to watch down the road, the first guy that comes to mind is 6-3, 275-pound defensive lineman Ngalu Tapa. Heck, I think Tapa could make a big impact next season. The first time I watched his highlight tape, I was left speechless. He flies into the backfield and goes after a quarterback and running back in ways you don’t see a guy that size do. As a senior this year, he recorded a mind-boggling 122 tackles and 15.5 sacks, (ridiculous number for an interior d-lineman). I think he's going to be a major force in the trenches for the Cougs moving forward and he has a great bond with WSU d-line coach Joe Salave'a.
At the skill positions, inside receivers Calvin Green and Keith Harrington have crazy wheels and have the potential to flourish in Leach's Air Raid offense. Green, nicknamed "Flash", is the kind of all-purpose yardage player Leach cherishes – he rushed for 876 yards and nine touchdowns this season, added 19 receptions for 443 yards and four scores catching the ball out of the backfield and racked up 396 return yards. His 23.3 yards per catch is a testament to his ability to make plays in the open field. As for Harrington, his speed and quick cuts also make him an intriguing prospect. In a recent prep all-star bowl game held in Tampa, Fla., the future Coug totalled over 300 yards and four touchdowns against heightened competition. The broadcast booth was raving about him during the game and they were questioning why Florida and Florida State let him get away. I think that question might just be repeated a number of times over the next 4-5 years, and that’s something Cougar fans should be excited about.
Ngalu Tapa, Kevin Griffin and Joseph Turner, a JUCO commit, could each contribute immediately.
Griffin and Turner, both cornerbacks, could push for immediate playing time, not only due to depth issues, but because they’re rangy, physical cornerbacks who have fluid hips and solid cover skills. Of the two, Turner projects to start immediately, while I could see Griffin in the No. 3 or 4 cornerback spot after camp breaks.
Tapa, on the other hand, is a massive defensive line prospect that has a high motor and the strength necessary to compete at the Pac-12 level as a true freshman. He’s noticeably raw, but with a full offseason at his disposal, he could be a valuable piece to a defensive line needing to replace stud nose guard Ioane Guata.
Looking further down the road you have to look at Peyton Bender and the speed guys, Keith Harrington and Calvin Green.
Bender was rated the No. 26 pro-style quarterback in the most recent Rivals rankings and put up big numbers before a collarbone injury derailed his season late. He ran an identical Air Raid-type offense at Cardinal Gibbons (Fla.) and is deadly accurate. While Tyler Bruggman looks to be the heir-apparent to Halliday, Bender is going to be on his heels for the next four years.
Green and Harrington, both running backs in high school, will be arriving as inside wide receivers and will bring in more speed resembling that of Robert Lewis’. Both players are deadly in space and while there’s a wealth of receiving talent currently in the program, you can’t teach speed. It may take a year or two for them to see regular playing time, but it won’t be because they don’t have the skill – there’s just so much of it already.
Thanks again to Britton and Braulio for joining us, make sure to check out Part 1 of their Recruiting Q&A as well. You can follow Britton on Twitter @bkransford and Braulio @BraulioEPerez for more WSU recruiting news.