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

Cougars coach Mike Leach revises recruiting philosophy

PULLMAN – The bowl practices, All-America lists and other post-regular season ephemera currently occupying headlines mask something currently happening at Washington State that will have a much more lasting impact for the Cougars.

December is recruiting season for college football coaches and WSU’s assistants are spending their weekdays fanning out across the country in order to get face time with next year’s freshmen players. And they spend their weekends playing host.

The Cougars began recruiting the 2016 class in earnest last spring, with a watch list of about 1,000 high school players. Over the summer that list gets whittled to about 350 who receive mail from the Cougars almost daily throughout the season. A group of about 200 get further attention from the coaches, and eventually, scholarship offers.

And then 56 kids are brought in for official visits – all-expenses paid trips to Pullman get a glimpse of what life would be like as a Cougar. Because the Cougars are limited to 25 players in a given recruiting class, it is imperative that they have a high success rate with the recruits they bring in for official visits.

In the past WSU, like many schools, brought in players for official visits throughout the season, typically having big recruiting weekends when a prominent opponents is in town to show off Martin Stadium’s game-day atmosphere.

This year, however, Mike Leach has changed his philosophy and is instead bringing in players for official visits now on quieter weekends with the regular season over.

“I like it better,” Leach said. “The biggest thing is, games are great and games are exciting, and they’re also on TV. The biggest thing is I think it allows us the opportunity to show them the campus, and meet our team without being preoccupied by a game.

“They get to see the excitement of the game, but they don’t really get to meet many people, and then get them introduced to professors, academics, all those things we can do a lot more effectively when we can really devote the whole weekend to them.”

Conventional wisdom holds that recruits are most influenced by a team’s success their junior year of high school, since by their senior season relationships have already been established and the range of choice schools is mostly set in a kid’s mind.

This year’s freshman class for WSU, therefore, is particularly strong because WSU had its resurgent 6-7 season in 2013, which saw the Cougars make their first bowl game since 2003. So last year’s 3-9 record may have put the Cougars at a disadvantage for this year’s recruiting class, although recent commitment by highly sought-after players may indicate that WSU’s success on the field this season is starting to resonate with recruits.

In that case, the Cougars may have gained another advantage by holding off on official visits: Recruits are now seeing WSU after watching the Cougars have their best season since the prospects were in kindergarten.

Mata’afa a freshman All-American

Washington State defensive end Hercules Mata’afa was named to USA Today’s Freshman All-America team on Wednesday. The WSU redshirt freshman tied for the team lead with six sacks – his first and second came at California in WSU’s fourth game of the season, and he finished the year with 10 tackles for loss. The young player has steadily improved throughout the year – he has a tackle for loss in four of WSU’s last five games – and ended the regular season as one of the team’s most impactful defensive players.