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Leach on USC quarterback Sam Darnold: ‘Mature’ but not yet ready for NFL stage

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 25, 2017

Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach reacts to a call during the first half of a PAC-12 football game on Saturday, September 19, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach reacts to a call during the first half of a PAC-12 football game on Saturday, September 19, 2017, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash. Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Each time the ball comes out of his right hand, Sam Darnold seemingly has another NFL scout drooling. USC’s quarterback, at just 20 years old, is already one of the most polished quarterbacks in college football, and Darnold will have another opportunity to wow his many NFL suitors on Friday night when the No. 5 Trojans take on No. 16 Washington State at Martin Stadium.

A redshirt sophomore, Darnold has already done the minimum amount of work required by the NCAA to leave school and declare for the NFL Draft following his third football season. Some pundits are projecting that USC’s signal-caller will be starting on Sundays this time next year.

Those people make Mike Leach’s head spin.

The WSU coach was first asked about Darnold as a passer – “I think he’s mature, really just kind of mentally together for a guy that’s his age,” Leach said – and then as an NFL prospect during his weekly news conference Monday afternoon.

Leach has been steadfast in his belief that college players shouldn’t leave school early for the simple reason that many aren’t ready, and he re-stated that stance on Monday.

Darnold’s good, but is he NFL ready? “I don’t think he is today,” Leach said.

And the WSU coach expanded.

“I get a kick out of everybody thinks one 18-year-old after the next is ready to go to the NFL,” Leach said, not necessarily talking about Darnold, but a younger generation of gridiron stars who come out of high school confident they can play in the professional arena without going to college. “I think that’s laughable and at the rate we’re going with that. And just for one year, now there’d be some casualties and those would be those 18-year-olds that are selected to go. And I mean it would be terribly brutal. It would literally destroy some lives, too. But for one year, just so we can get it out of our system, they ought to let any 18-year-old that wants to go try out for the NFL.”

Leach has a sense of how that would play out.

“You know how many will make it? None,” he said. “The only one that might would be somebody like a kicker or a punter.”

The NCAA mandates that college football players must log three years on campus before they’re eligible for the NFL Draft. Every year, there’s a group of non-seniors who ditch school prematurely for the allure of an NFL paycheck, which in turn leaves an even younger population of players confident they too can make it as a professional.

“Those guys would get crushed and it wouldn’t be by some narrow, passive little margin,” Leach said. “And it’s different in baseball and basketball. There’s a point in the NFL where the brutality is such that you don’t just come out of Molly Putz high school and wander in there and say, ‘Here I am cause I can run the 40 fast.’ They’ll blow his little ass up so fast.”

The NCAA permits college basketball players to go pro after just one season and high school baseball players are allowed to bypass college entirely if they choose to. Leach believes athletes in those sports are better suited to play professionally at an earlier age, but insists that the vast majority still aren’t physically equipped to do so.

“I think there are some rare, rare, rare, rare occasions a guy can do that,” he said. “Kobe Bryant did it so they act like everybody (can do it). No, Kobe Bryant can do it, not everybody can do it.”

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