PULLMAN – When Paul Wulff was hired as Washington State’s football coach 14 months ago, he made it clear he wanted to change two things about the Cougars’ recruiting.
He wanted to win the state and he wanted to reestablish WSU as a force in California.
Wednesday, the first day high school seniors could sign their binding letters of intent, the Cougars did both of those things.
“Successful football teams in years past here have always had that heavy dose of kids in these geographic areas,” Wulff said. “That’s how we’re going to get it built back to being a Pac-10 contender.”
Wulff and his assistants attracted seven Washington high schoolers, including defensive lineman Gonzaga Prep’s Travis Long, who Wulff termed “really epitomizes what we’re looking for”, and receiver Gino Simone of Skyline High in Issaquah, the state’s highest-rated recruit according to one on-line scouting service.
Wulff was able to reestablish WSU as a force in the state because, “when they were winning 10 games a season, they were getting the best kids out of Washington,” according to Long, who will join Lewis and Clark defensive end Chris Mastin in Pullman next year. “They are just trying to get back to that.”
Both Long and Mastin were all-state honorees and shared the Greater Spokane League defensive MVP award.
“He’s got a little heart and he plays with a lot of energy,” Long said of Mastin.
And nine of the remaining 13 high school signees are from the Golden State, including quarterback Jeff Tuel, from Clovis West High in the Fresno suburb and three linemen.
“We would love for him to be really good, really fast,” said Wulff of the 6-foot-3 Tuel who committed last August. “We all have to be patient with him. He’s a young quarterback … who had one legitimate year as a starter. But we are very high on his potential.”
The Cougars class includes two junior college signees who will not contribute in the upcoming season. One is tight end Peter Tuitupou, who enrolled last month only to drop out to take his LDS mission. Wulff said WSU was blindsided by his decision.
“There was nothing that led us to believe this would happen,” Wulff said. “If it was, we probably wouldn’t have recruited him.”
The other is highly regarded defensive end Brandon Rankin of Butte JC in Northern California. The only four-star recruit in WSU’s class has yet to qualify academically. The Cougars will offer Rankin, who will not play this fall, academic support this year in hopes he can enroll next spring.
“We will aid him through the process to do well academically,” Wulff said of one of the West Coast’s highest-rated pass rushers. “He’s a wonderful kid and a good person so he’s worth giving the time to.”
The final member of the class is wide receiver Johnny Forzani, a Candaian who played in Alberta last fall for the Calgary Stampeders practice squad. The 6-1, 200-pound Forzani is expected to battle for a starting spot this fall.
However, Wulff would rather focus his efforts on high school players.
“It’s pretty evident the JC route doesn’t work, it’s not been a proven success,” Wulff said. “You’re not going to build a program through JCs. I’m here to build a program. We’re going to build a very good one, and it’s going to be done with high school players.
“We might sign an occasional one or two, but you just don’t build programs that way.”