PULLMAN – To a college football fan, the final few days of January are akin to the hours leading up to Christmas for a 10-year-old.
Both gleefully anticipate what’s coming.
But for the fan, it’s not a new PlayStation 3 they’re craving. It’s the high school seniors who will be signing their letter of intent the first Wednesday in February.
And like that 10-year-old who opens too many boxes containing sweaters, the football fan is rarely completely happy. Especially Washington State’s fans.
The Cougars hardly ever sign a PlayStation-caliber senior. Those end up under the tree in Los Angeles, Eugene, Seattle.
Come Wednesday, when the LOLs start arriving in Pullman, WSU’s class will again contain more PlayStation Portable-types than PlayStation 3s.
“It’s not a sexy type of class,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said this week, “because it’s doesn’t include a lot of skill (position) kids.”
But the Cougars, coming off a 2-10 season, the third in Wulff’s three years with at least 10 losses, may not need sexy. They need productive. They need tough. And they need size.
“We went for more lineman and bigger body types,” Wulff said. “That’s what we needed and that’s the way we went.”
There are 10 offensive or defensive linemen in WSU’s list of committed players.
Enticing high school players to the Palouse is different than selling the bright lights of Los Angeles or Seattle. It’s not about stars. It’s about finding gems with rough edges that need a little polish.
Such players have been part of WSU’s present recruiting strategy. Two years ago it was Travis Long and Jeff Tuel. Last year it was Deone Bucannon and Marquess Wilson. None was a five-star recruit. All had a huge impact right away.
“They have a great eye for evaluating talent,” said Jake Worthen, West Coast recruiting analyst for Scout.com who is based in Seattle. “You have to give them credit for how wide and far Cougar coaches have looked this year.
“They’ve put together what for us is, I think, the sixth class in the Pac-10. When you’re pulling kids to Washington State from Florida, Kansas, from Iowa, it means you’re out there looking.”
Asked which players WSU will sign Wednesday that will fit that mold, Worthen named three players from Southern California: 6-foot-4, 190-pound receiver Dominque Williams from Pomona, defensive tackle Brandon Tuliaupupu, a 6-2, 275-pounder from Claremont, and 6-2 quarterback Cody Clements from La Habra.
None was extensively recruited before their senior seasons and all shined last fall, engendering more interest and endangering their commitments to WSU, but more on that later.
“We just trust our own evaluation,” Wulff said of his strategy. “That’s a strength of ours. We don’t need outside affirmation, regarding recruiting services and other universities, if they are recruiting them or not.”
Scout.com has 23 players listed as committed to Washington State in its database. NCAA rules allow up to 25 initial scholarships each year and a total of 85 scholarship players. The Cougars, still in the rebuilding process under Wulff, had less than 80 players on scholarship at the end of last season.
Three junior college transfers – offensive linemen Taylor Meighen (6-3, 285) and Rico Forbes (6-4, 260) and defensive end Ian Knight (6-2, 244) – have already enrolled in Pullman, as have three Florida high school seniors – receivers Henry Eaddy (5-8, 170) and Isiah Myers (6-foot, 170) and linebacker Darryl Monroe (6-1, 210) – and a member of last year’s signing class – defensive end Xavier Cooper (6-5, 268).
Some can either be counted against last year’s 25 (counting Cooper, WSU ended up with just 23 in the class) or this year’s, depending on space.
The Florida trio represents a trend in college football – high school players enrolling early to participate in spring practice – but is new for the Cougars.
“It’s a first for us,” Wulff said. “We’re anxious to see how it goes. It does go on across the country. We’ve tried to elevate every aspect of our recruiting, and stay on the cutting edge, and we had three kids who were excited about coming and that was their plan, they wanted to enroll early.”
Their enrollment also means their recruitment is over. The rest of the players on Washington State’s commitment list still could sign LOIs elsewhere.
Such was the case with WSU’s first, and highest-rated, commit, running back Bishop Sankey. Scout.com gave the Gonzaga Prep standout four (out of five) stars.
Last week Sankey, the Greater Spokane League’s all-time leading rusher, announced he had dropped his commitment to WSU and would instead sign with Washington on Wednesday.
Sankey, who did not return calls this week seeking comment, committed to the Cougars more than a year ago, telling Scout.com in February “there’s a very slim chance that could change, like if Paul Wulff for some reason wouldn’t be coaching when I’m there.”
Wulff is still in Pullman, though his status seemed shaky as last season wound down before athletic director Bill Moos announced Wulff would return. That uncertainty had an effect, Worthen said, on recruits.
“I’ve noticed a little concern with that talking with recruits this year,” he said. “There is some hesitance in that, if they like Wulff, they wonder if he is going to be there when they’re sophomores.”
Despite that, WSU received two commitments in the past couple of weeks, Tuliaupupu and running back Marcus Mason (5-9, 175 pounds).
Wulff, who already lost intriguing offensive line commit Stephan Nembot the week before to Washington, is putting a good face on the losses publicly this season. In the past, he had harsh words for schools that enticed kids to bail on their commitments.
“(Commitments) matter,” Wulff said on last year’s signing day after losing two players late. “When you have people who don’t have the scruples and/or the integrity to come in and, regardless of a kid’s decision, they’re going to continue to recruit them, get these kids to change their mind or their commitment, I think it’s wrong.”
This year he’s a bit more resigned.
“It happens in recruiting,” he said. “Whenever a kid is going to commit, we do this with every kid, we say, ‘If you’re going to do this, it’s done. You don’t take on new suitors. You’re word needs to be good. Our word is good.’
“Most of the time it works out. They stay with their commitment and kids honor their word.”