PULLMAN – Washington State University announced the signing of 22 players to football letters of intent Wednesday, a number that was neither remarkable nor unexpected.
But coach Paul Wulff’s third recruiting class – second with a full year or more to cultivate prospects – is remarkable in one area and unexpected in another.
The remarkable part is the number of signees from Spokane’s Greater Spokane League. The unexpected came in the form of a highly rated linebacker from Florida and the late loss of two committed players.
Three GSL performers, Mead’s Aaron Dunn, Ferris’ Connor Halliday and Shadle Park’s Jake Rodgers, followed through on their long-standing commitments and faxed in their letters of intent in the morning.
“I guess I was just really excited to finally have it done, because it’s been a really long time,” said Dunn, a highly rated tight end who committed following his sophomore year. “It seems like years, years, years ago when I committed. This day has been coming for a long time.”
And it’s been a long time since this large of a GSL group has signed with WSU. According to the school’s records, it’s been since 1984, when four players accepted scholarships. One of those, former Lewis and Clark coach Tom Yearout, has an inkling of why that is.
“It’s Pac-10 football, the highest level of football in the country,” said Yearout, who signed as a receiver from Shadle Park. “I think two from a league is great and this year is extraordinary.”
Wulff believes this is an extraordinary group, calling it “as good a class that has come here.”
The unit includes 20 high school seniors and two junior college offensive linemen who are already enrolled at WSU. Because NCAA Division I schools can award up to 25 first-year, or initial, scholarships a season, Wulff said he expects to add at least one more junior college receiver and possibly a defensive lineman.
The best player the Cougars enticed into signing might be the most unexpected.
C.J. Mizell, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound linebacker from Tallahassee, Fla., signed with Florida State last year but failed to qualify academically. While spending the past 12 months overcoming that problem, Mizell dropped off most schools’ radar.
But Wulff said a friend of former WSU receiver Devard Darling, who also transferred from Florida State, helped the Cougars’ coaches learn Mizell had qualified and was available.
“It just happened real late,” Wulff said. “He’s a kid who doesn’t like to answer his cell phone or deal with all that stuff. We actually had to coerce him to take the trip. … It really was just one of those things, it was quiet. We tried to keep it quiet. We just thought a lot of people would jump in.”
Part of Mizell’s reluctance might have stemmed from having never flown in an airplane until last weekend’s trip to Pullman. But once here, the former four-star recruit committed. He does come with some baggage.
“We did our background check with C.J., he had had a few incidents,” said Wulff of Mizell, who had run-ins with authorities in high school, including a marijuana-related incident as a senior. “Once we found out in detail from all the people involved, they are not as serious as they may appear via media reports, probably, although there have been some things that have happened.
“He just wants to go some place, have fun, get his degree (and) play football.”
The Cougars signed five defensive backs – all of whom Wulff feels have a shot to play next year – and five receivers, including two from California, Kristoff Williams and Marquess Wilson, whom Wulff feels could get on the field as freshmen.
Eleven of the signees hail from Northern California, an area Wulff has made a priority in recruiting.
“If you look at (WSU’s) history, there has been tremendous success with players who have come from (Northern California),” said Wulff, who grew up in the Sacramento area. “They’ve come to Pullman, adapted extremely well and had great careers.”
When asked what areas he had identified as needed improvement, Wulff talked about the speed and size of players.
“You look at our team,” said Wulff, who is 3-22 after two WSU seasons, “and we need bigger bodies, bigger frames and more speed. We kind of need all of it.”
Dunn (6-6, 235 pounds) and Rodgers (6-7, 245), tight ends in high school, have the frame part covered, along with another Washington product, offensive lineman John Fullington (6-6, 270).
Halliday, who led Ferris to the State 4A finals last fall, hopes to add to his 6-5, 186-pound frame.
“I’m going in there this year hoping I’ll have a full year to redshirt,” said Halliday, mentioning sophomore Jeff Tuel and junior Marshall Lobbestael as quarterbacks he knows he’ll be competing with. “That’s kind of the plan and that’s what I want to do.”
Wulff, while happy with the 2010 recruits, is ecstatic about attracting so many GSL players down U.S. 195 to play.
“Of all the schools in the Pac-10, Washington State is the one school that if they have local players on their football team, it seems to mean more to their fans,” Wulff said.