PULLMAN – His footwork, accuracy and leadership qualities had already been lauded by coach Mike Leach on Wednesday afternoon.
But as Washington State quarterback signee Austin Apodaca killed time before a high school basketball game in Denver, he put another talent on display.
The kid can take a compliment.
Told that Leach described him as “one of the most accurate guys I’ve ever had the opportunity to recruit,” Apodaca reacted with the same enthusiasm he’s shown about his WSU commitment since the day he made it.
“Oh, wow,” Apodaca said via telephone. “I didn’t even hear that. That’s pretty awesome.”
Apodaca, who played his high school ball at Silver Creek in Longmont, Colo., is the lone quarterback in Leach’s initial signing class, and one of 24 players to sign national letters of intent on Wednesday. Four others signed and enrolled in school at the beginning of this semester, bringing the class’ total population to 28.
Apodaca knew he wanted to be a Cougar from the time he took his first visit last June. That much was certain. But what remained unclear, even if only for a couple weeks, was whether Leach and the new staff would want Apodaca, who committed to the previous coaching staff on June 7.
Leach and his staff told all committed players that their first priority would be reviewing their film, then deciding which of them they’d be extending scholarship offers to.
Two weeks after the coach was hired, the Cougars contacted Apodaca personally. Then receivers coach Eric Morris came out to Longmont to watch one of Apodaca’s basketball games. The two ate dinner, talked football, and Morris told Apodaca he’d have an update for him by the middle of the next week.
A phone call from Leach told Apodaca everything he needed to know.
“He said he liked my footwork and my accuracy, my mobility, asked if I had the opportunity to change plays at the line,” Apodaca said. “I’ve had full control of that since junior year. That’s pretty much exactly what they do. Once I talked to coach Leach, it was just really reassuring that my commitment to WSU was 200 percent.”
Leach seemed to share that feeling. He said a number of quarterbacks approached him about transferring to WSU, but with Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday already on the roster, he wanted to sign a freshman.
“He had the combination of feet, accuracy, football savvy and IQ,” Leach said. “There really wasn’t any wavering on it.”
Especially after he watched film of Apodaca throwing the ball in sub-freezing temperatures.
“The field had been plowed off, so there was snow everywhere,” Leach said. “Come to find out, it was like 10 degrees outside, so he was throwing a football that feels like concrete. And with that, he was as accurate as any other quarterback I saw on film.”
“I just want to get the ball into the playmakers’ hands,” said Apodaca, who threw for 3,849 yards and 44 touchdowns as a senior. “Get it to the dudes that are going to score.”
Apodaca will enter school along with five freshman receivers – four-star prospect Gabriel Marks of Los Angeles is the most notable of that group – and eight offensive linemen, numbers that affirm Leach’s vision as it pertains to restructuring the Cougars’ offense.
“What I like about them … they weren’t just fast guys that, well, if you do this that and the other thing, they can play receiver,” Leach said. “They’re already receivers. I think really just a good group of receivers. Our reception with receivers is understandably high, but these guys are a quality group.”
WSU’s class includes 14 players from California, four from Washington and five from junior colleges.
“We looked for three things in particular: we needed offensive linemen, we needed defensive linemen and we looked for guys that were good football players,” Leach said.
“It was the same as when I selected our staff. If you look at our staff every one of them on some level is in the habit of winning. With regard to these football players we tried to select guys that were the same. Not how big is he? How fast is he? How strong is he? Can he play football is the first question we asked.”