January 28, 2012 in Sports

Cougars’ recruiting looks different under Leach

By The Spokesman-Review
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WSU football
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WSU recruits Scout.com and Rivals.com list the Cougars with 23 oral commitments as of Friday night. (Position, name, hometown, present school, height, weight) QB Austin Apodaca, Longmont, Colo., Silver Creek, 6-2, 175 WR Brett Bartolone, La Habra, Calif., La Habra, 5-10, 175 DB David Bucannon, Vacaville, Calif., Vanden, 6-2, 180 RB Teondray Caldwell, Los Angeles, Venice, 5-10, 190 S Feddie Davey, Miami, Miami Norland, 5-10, 190 OL Denzell Dotson, Glendale, Ariz., Cactus, 6-2, 300 LB Keith Ewing, Bellaire, Texas, Bellaire, 6-1, 215 OL Sam Flor, Bothell, Wash., O’Dea, 6-4, 280 DT Ioane Gauta, Fullerton, Calif., Fullerton CC, 6-4, 300 WR Alex Jackson, Culver City, Calif., Culver City, 5-10, 175 WR Robert Lewis, South Gate, Calif., South East, 5-9, 155 WR Gabriel Marks, Los Angeles, Venice, 6-0, 175 OL Eduardo Middleton, Oceanside, Calif., Oceanside, 6-5, 290 OL Alex Mitchell, Portland, Jefferson, 6-2, 309 LB Kache Palacio, Gardena, Calif., Junipero Serra, 6-2, 225 LB Khalil Pettway, Culver City, Calif., Culver City, 6-4, 205 OL Niu Sale, Wilmington, Calif., Los Angeles Harbor CC, 6-4, 320 OL BJ Salmonson, Everson, Wash., Nooksack Valley, 6-5, 285 S Taylor Taliulu, Aiea, Hawaii, Aiea, 5-11, 171 DE/LB Jacob Tuivaiave, Tacoma, Washington, 6-4, 250 DE Destiny Vaeao, Pago Pago, American Samoa, Tafuna, 6-3, 255 OL Pierson Villarrubia, Mandeville, La., Lakeside, 6-5, 265 RB Theron West, Wilmington, Calif., L.A. Harbor CC, 5-8, 170 Note: Teondray Caldwell and Denzell Dotson have signed and submitted their letters of intent.

At least one expert says it’s easy to see the difference between the recruiting class being constructed by Mike Leach and his staff, and the initial class put together by former coach Paul Wulff.

The emphasis, FOX Sports/Scout.com West Regional recruiting manager Brandon Huffman said, is no longer on depth. It’s on talented depth.

“Guys that had other schools after them, committed to other schools,” Huffman wrote in an email. “Not a focus on sleepers that they can develop, but guys that could come in and contribute now.

“Compare the class the previous staff brought in, in their first year (the 1-2 months they had to finish the class of 2008) … and it’s a night and day difference.”

One big difference is that Leach’s first class already contains a couple of players who could make an instant impact. One of them is receiver Gabriel Marks, originally a commit to SMU who has since committed to Washington State and will likely be the most high-profile of WSU’s national letter-of-intent signees on Wednesday.

Marks is rated as a four-star prospect by Scout.com, which ranks the Venice High School product as the No. 39 receiver in the nation.

Other notable offensive commits are receivers Robert Lewis (No. 63) and Alex Jackson (No. 152). The Cougars still have a chance to sign four-star receiver Kenny Lawler (Upland, Calif.).

“WSU is not just making in-roads in California – Wulff did that,” Huffman said. “The difference is that (Leach) is making the in-roads with key players, not just key schools. It helps when you take a school’s best player rather than a good school’s seventh-best player. WSU is certainly more attractive. Kids play in the spread offense and pass-friendly offenses far more now then ever before. And Leach has a proven track record of doing that.”

It’s not hard to see why Leach has gone after skill position players, and why those kinds of players haven’t been shy about giving their word to play for Washington State.

“Our offense is a receiver’s dream, it’s a quarterback’s dream,” chief of staff and recruiting coordinator Dave Emerick said. “Running backs, for them to touch the ball in so many ways, that’s a big thing, especially with the NFL going to more of a passing league.”

But Leach has said on several occasions that his first priority will always be on the offensive and defensive lines. WSU has six commitments from offensive linemen, five of whom pledged to be Cougars while Wulff was still coach. The lone quarterback commit of the class, Austin Apodaca of Longmont, Colo., ranked as a three-star prospect by Scout, is also sticking with the commitment he gave to Wulff.

Apodaca hasn’t been shy about professing the strength of his commitment to WSU on his Twitter page. That’s a sentiment Leach and his staff have inspired from many.

“Obviously, coach Leach is such a big name – that has helped out so much,” Emerick said. “There’s so many players out there who want to play for coach Leach, just with his reputation of graduating players and winning games and going to bowl games and being on TV every week, and being such an exciting program.”

Scout.com lists the Cougars with 23 oral commitments, though three of those players – offensive lineman Denzell Dotson, running back Teondray Caldwell and kicker Mike Bowlin – have already signed and are enrolled in classes, in addition to receiver Rahmel Dockery, a 2011 signee who didn’t get eligible until this year.

WSU is expected to sign a full class of 25 players. Huffman said that as of now, it appears all of the Cougars’ committed players plan to sign their letters of intent on Wednesday.

Huffman said he also believes the Cougars still have a chance to land four-star cornerback Cedric Dozier of Lakes High School in Tacoma – he visited Pullman on Jan. 20, one of two key weekends this month for official visits – though he is still technically committed to California.

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