PULLMAN – Despite a flurry of late defections, Washington State’s 2015 recruiting class is one of its most highly regarded in years.
But, oh, what could have been.
A receiver who had declared his intentions to play in Pullman instead accepted an offer to walk-on for one semester at USC before being placed on scholarship. Another receiver who had pledged crimson and gray will instead play at Oklahoma and a junior college linebacker who would have likely played right away will instead try to do so at Oregon.
Many of WSU’s late-losses were reported to have been recruited primarily by outside receivers coach Dennis Simmons, whom coach Mike Leach announced on Wednesday will be leaving to coach at Oklahoma to be closer to his daughter and to work with OU coach Bob Stoops.
“I don’t know how it affected the players,” Leach said. “That’s difficult to say and it’s hard to gauge. Dennis has been aware of the opportunity and just recently decided that’s what he’s going to do. So the underlying impact in all that is anybody’s guess.”
Such 11th-hour poaching is the standard in recruiting. When it is done by traditional powerhouses, not much can be said other than that it speaks to the caliber of athlete the Cougars were recruiting.
But the defections of two of WSU’s most highly hyped players to San Diego State and San Jose State were bizarre.
When all those players were assumed to be heading to Pullman, WSU’s class was ranked as highly as No. 22 in the country by Scout.com, an online network that deals in the evaluating and ranking of recruits. Now it ranks No. 43, although Leach said that he expects to sign a couple of more players.
Still, it is only the second time the Cougars have finished that high since 2004, an impressive feat given the team’s 3-9 record last fall and that they spent most of the recruiting-intensive months since without a defensive coordinator or secondary coach.
“If you consider the year that they’ve had, to still bring in a top-quality class, probably their highest class on paper, that’s a positive,” said Brandon Huffman, the national director of recruiting for Scout.com.
It’s not a class with many local stars whom fans will recognize. Pasco’s Deion Singleton is the only in-state scholarship recruit and he signed with WSU last year and sat out the season.
“We recruited in state aggressively but these are the ones that we felt like fit. We fit them and they fit us,” Leach said.
The highest-ranked high school recruits WSU signed were four-star defensive tackle Thomas Toki and four-star safety Kameron Powell. But the most intriguing of the bunch could be Logan Tago, a native of American Samoa who is listed simply as an “athlete” by WSU.
Leach said that the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Tago could end up playing safety, tight end, receiver, defensive lineman or any of the linebacker positions. But those high school recruits probably won’t be the first members of the recruiting class WSU fans have a chance to see on the field.
Five of WSU’s 23 signees are junior college transfers, all of whom will be expected to contribute immediately. As such, the class provides new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch with an immediate infusion of depth since four of the transfers will play defense.
Cornerback Treshon Broughton and safety Shalom Luani will be expected to immediately bolster WSU’s secondary and defensive end Jeremiah Mitchell and linebacker Aaron Porter were both heavily recruited by successful programs.
There will still be an adjustment period, but Luani and Mitchell are already on campus.
“Right now we just want them to adjust and get adjusted,” Leach said. “Some of (the junior college transfers) have to get in shape. A four-year program – as far as the offseason, the lifting, the running – it’s more demanding, so we need to get them caught up.”
It’s probable that some of the players that chose to go elsewhere would have become key players at WSU.
But ultimately the class will be remembered for who signed, not who didn’t.
And that’s a group with which Leach said he’s happy.
“Really, we needed an overall class and that’s what you’d like to have every year, is an overall balanced class. I think the quality of the offensive line, the defensive line and defensive backs is good,” Leach said. “I think this class, in my opinion, is the best one I’ve had since we’ve been here.”
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