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Washington State became ‘dream school’ for three-star running back Max Borghi

Pomona Panthers running Max Borghi is all smiles after scoring a touchdown against the Grandview Wolves in the second quarter during the 5A Colorado state championship semifinals at Legacy Stadium Nov. 25, 2017. (Andy Cross / Denver Post)

Max Borghi’s phone call to Jim Mastro might as well have been a Christmas miracle for the Washington State running backs coach.

“I’ve been coaching 28 years,” Mastro said, “and it’s probably the most ecstatic I’ve ever been, because it was so unexpected.”

Borghi, the three-star running back who the Cougars have pursued since January, was calling to tell Mastro where he’d be going to college. It was either WSU, the school that had been pursuing him for over a year, or Stanford, the one he’d admired since he was a boy.

Since Borghi was calling via FaceTime – something Mastro says he’d never done – the WSU assistant was inclined to believe his prized recruit was about to share some bad news.

“I thought, ‘Well, the kid’s a man so I figured he wants to look me in the eye to tell me he’s going to Stanford,’” Mastro recalled. “So when I answered the phone, he’s sitting at a desk. Someone’s holding the phone, he’s sitting at a desk with his Washington State hat on, every letter Washington State’s ever sent him and a Washington State Cougar flag right behind him. So it pretty much told me what was going on right then.”

With the NCAA’s early signing period winding down, Borghi signed on Friday afternoon, giving the Cougars their 19th addition to the 2018 class and their first running back. The early signing period began on Wednesday and ends today.

Borghi’s signature was well worth the wait for WSU. The running back from Arvada, Colorado, won the Denver Post’s 2017 Gold Helmet Award after leading Pomona to the first 5A state championship in school history.

“Thank you to everyone who gave me the opportunity to play ball,” Borghi wrote in a tweet. “It is official, I will be up in January and rocking jersey #21!! GO COUGS!!”

The coaches in Pullman figured they’d wait two more months to hear from Borghi. Instead, he’ll pack his bags later this month and enroll at WSU in January – just in time to join the Cougars for winter conditioning.

“Weirder things have happened but I’d say there’s a zero percent chance he redshirts next year,” Mastro said. “He’s too talented, too physically gifted and he’s going to have spring ball under his belt, so that’s huge.”

Clarity for Borghi came Friday morning.

“I woke up,” he said, “and knew I was ready to sign.”

Since Borghi was 9 years old, Stanford was his “dream school” and as a Coloradoan with a gift for running the football, the Pomona senior naturally took notice of former Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey, who starred for four years at Valor Christian – located just 35 miles south of Borghi’s hometown of Arvada.

Beyond McCaffrey, Stanford has been able to churn out a few of the nation’s top rushers over the last decade, including Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Byce Love.

And Borghi gravitated to Stanford’s smash-mouth brand of football.

“That pro-style offense is pretty appealing and watching Christian McCaffrey, he’s been a role model of mine,” he said. “To go through there and be successful was pretty cool.”

Stanford offered Borghi four months ago, but as the Cardinal began expressing interest in the Pomona tailback, WSU also became more appealing.

“It’s a dream school itself, just with what coach Mastro’s done with the last running backs,” Borghi said. “And how they plan to use me, I’m excited.”

Borghi is the country’s 23rd-ranked all-purpose tailback according to 247Sports – “I can run through the tackles,” he said, “but I can also go out and catch the ball can catch it in the open space and go do all that.”

Hence the McCaffrey comparisons. Mastro prefers another analogy.

“He’s Jamal Morrow,” the running backs coach said, comparing his incoming freshman to WSU’s outgoing senior. “He can do it all.”

WSU graduates two senior tailbacks this year – Morrow and Gerard Wicks – so not only will Borghi avoid a redshirt season, there’s a good chance he’ll vie for major field time right off the bat. Morrow was as instrumental to the Cougars’ passing game as he was to the ground game, becoming the second player in Cougars history to amass 1,000 all-purpose yards in three consecutive seasons. Borghi’s versatility and his knack for catching the ball out of the backfield could help the Cougars make up for the loss of Morrow.

“He can catch it, he can run it, he can return kicks, he’s (Pomona’s) punter,” Mastro said. “We’re probably going to do some rugby punt stuff with him. In this offense, he’s what you want.”

As a senior, Borghi was named Colorado’s outstanding senior football player, rushing for 1,690 yards and 27 touchdowns with seven 100-yard efforts. He caught 10 passes for 115 yards, had a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and returned another punt for a touchdown. In the 5A state title game, he accumulated 247 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.

“I feel like every football player’s dream is to go to the NFL,” Borghi said, “and I feel like the way the NFL’s using players like me is a lot of what Washington State does.”

Borghi, who also carries a 3.9 GPA, is excited to link up with Mastro in Pullman and cited his relationship with the WSU aid as one of the top reasons he’s spending his collegiate years on the Palouse rather than in the Bay Area.

“He’s someone I really enjoy being around and I know I can get coached by,” Borghi said, confessing he probably made the last 72 hours pretty hard on Mastro as he toggled between the Cardinal and the Cougars. “I hadn’t really texted him in awhile, these past few days, so he was probably pretty stressed out.”

Mastro admits he broke his own “cardinal rule” of not getting too emotionally attached to a recruit, or his family.

“They’re such great people and great family,” he said. “They’re Italians, I’m Italian. We had so much in common and I broke that rule. My wife warned me, careful.

“But this time it paid off.”