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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cougars wait for Stewart

PULLMAN – Less than two weeks away from the Feb. 2 signing day, Washington State University has almost all of its available football scholarships filled with verbal commitments from around the country.

“It’s going to be a typical Washington State class where it’s a little under the radar, but it comes out with very developed players,” said Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for and USA Prep. “Probably, I think Washington State does the best job of developing players in the country.”

That said, Lemming – not to mention those around the Cougars program – can’t tag this year’s recruiting haul with anything but an incomplete grade thus far.

That’s because running back Jonathan Stewart of Lacey, Wash., the top rusher in the country according to Lemming and a number of other recruiting analysts, has not yet publicly announced where he will attend college.

Stewart intends to announce his decision between WSU and Oregon on television in the Seattle area on Friday, but sources close to the situation have indicated that the Timberline High School star has already made up his mind. Two WSU coaches are scheduled for an in-home visit with Stewart’s family today.

“He reminds me of Bo Jackson,” said Lemming, who also has Stewart listed as the No. 3 recruit in the nation at any position. “It could be Washington State’s biggest catch ever. I’ve been doing this (for) 27 years, and they’ve never gotten a name as big as Jonathan is.”

Including the one that could be taken by Stewart, the Cougars have six scholarships remaining to dole out. Some of the bigger names come on offense, like Fresno, Calif., quarterback Arkelon Hall, but the majority of the players who could make an immediate impact are probably on the defensive side.

That comes as no surprise, as head coach Bill Doba had indicated months ago that shoring up the secondary and linebacking corps would be a priority.

One thing to watch for with the 2005 recruiting class will be academic standing, a factor that kept eight of last year’s 28 signees off the Cougars roster.

WSU has commitments from five players in the secondary, at which recruits could be most likely to step in and play right away. But two safeties remain question marks. DeWayne Patterson, a junior college player from Southern California, is behind on his A.A. degree. Michael Willis, one of 2004’s academic casualties, is waiting in Pullman for final confirmation of his SAT scores to enroll as a grayshirt freshman immediately.

The Cougars had received a commitment from Moses Lake lineman Wilson Holman, but the high school senior has had some legal issues that have made the Cougars decide to halt his recruitment and turn to other options.

That, and the loss of two players from the current roster, could also affect the way the remaining scholarships are doled out. Offensive linemen Sean O’Connor, a sophomore in the 2004 season, and Russell Foster, a freshman in 2004, have both been dismissed from WSU because of academic issues.

As a result, it’s likely that at least one if not two of the remaining scholarships will be spent on players at that position.

Not all of this year’s Cougars verbal commitments are considered major risks, however. Fevaea’i Ahmu, a defensive tackle from San Diego, is thought of as one of the better prospects at his position in the nation and could challenge for playing time quickly.

Back on the offensive side of the ball, Hall, the quarterback from Fresno, could end up being WSU’s most prized recruit should Stewart choose Oregon.

Lemming has Hall rated as the eighth-best quarterback in the nation, and the 6-foot-2 player has impressed many at all-star camps in the last year.

“He’s got a good arm and good leadership skills,” Lemming said. “The only thing he’s lacking, for the prototypical quarterback, is height. But everything else – he’s a winner.

“I think it’s going to be a very good class for them.”