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Five to watch: Keep an eye on these Washington State football commits as NCAA’s early signing period approaches

PULLMAN – This time last year, Washington State fans were anticipating the NCAA’s first early signing period, wondering how the Cougars would fill out their 2018 recruiting class and which prospects would get an jump on things by signing on Dec. 19 rather than Feb. 6.

Last year’s haul included one player who figured into the equation immediately for the Cougars – running back Max Borghi – and a few others who got four games of experience while taking advantage of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule.

WSU has 20 players orally committed, according 247Sports, and the Cougars are expected to sign another large batch in about a week’s time.

We take a look at five intriguing oral commits who are expected to ink letters of intent with the Cougars in the class of 2019.

1. Gunner Cruz, quarterback, Queen Creek, Arizona (Casteel High) – From Gardner to Gunner? Based on Mike Leach’s track record, it would be out of the norm for the Washington State coach to trust a true freshman with the keys to his Air Raid offense. Luke Falk has been his youngest starter in Pullman and the ex-walk-on was already nine games through his redshirt freshman season when he replaced Connor Halliday – and mind you, that was only out of necessity. But Cruz, at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, might have the best qualities of any QB Leach has lured to the Palouse. After the most successful one-year rental in program history, the Cougars will have their work cut out for them trying to replace Gardner Minshew. Cruz has a big arm, quick feet and if he can demonstrate a decent understanding of Leach’s playbook early – granted, that’s a considerable “if” – he might put himself in the mix. Either way, the competition between Cruz and current freshman Cammon Cooper should be a fierce one a few years down the road.

2. Travion Brown, inside linebacker, Temecula, California (Linfield Christian) – The composite rankings used by 247Sports tab the Linfield Christian linebacker as a four-star prospect, which would make him just the second four-star defensive prospect to sign with the Cougars under Leach. Once the Cougars get Brown on campus, the next step will be discovering how to use him. Earlier in the fall, the 6-3, 215-pound Brown told The Spokesman-Review that WSU coaches had floated the idea of using him as a “Rush” linebacker but could also pinch him inside as a traditional middle linebacker. The Cougars won’t have an immediate need at either spot, but considering the number of injuries they’ve suffered at both positions the last few years, there’s always the chance that a young linebacker will be pressed into action earlier than expected. At the bare minimum, Brown can use the NCAA’s redshirt rule to his advantage and get four games under his belt in 2019.

3. Jamir Thomas, running back, Massillon, Ohio (Washington High) – Five schools from the Big Ten, two from the SEC, two from the Big 12 and one from the ACC had been pursuing the two-way player from the storied football program in Massillon. But Thomas, a 6-1, 215-pound running back/linebacker, is signing with WSU – the lone Pac-12 school to offer him and the only FBS school west of Minnesota – because the Cougars are giving him a chance to play offense. Thomas broached the 2,000-yard rushing mark for the Tigers as a senior and scored 24 times on the ground before sustaining an injury that forced him to miss the Ohio Division II state title game. The Cougars are unproven at running back behind James Williams and Borghi, so Thomas could take on a Keith Harrington-like role in 2019 – or use his redshirt and slide in next to Borghi as a secondary tailback in 2020.

4. Billy Pospisil, wide receiver, Arvada, Colorado (Pomona High) – Speaking of Borghi, the next player on the list hails from the same Pomona High School as WSU’s standout RB. Pospisil figures to play in the slot when he gets to Pullman and it’ll be all too easy to make the comparisons to current and past Leach receivers with the same build. At 5-11, 190 pounds, Pospisil has qualities similar to Kyle Sweet and River Cracraft, and even a few of Leach’s inside receivers at Texas Tech, like Danny Amendola and Wes Welker. Pospisil became Pomona’s career leader in receiving yards and had 551 yards in seven games per, before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. While they three starting slot receivers returning, the Cougars don’t have the depth on the inside they do on the outside, so there may be a few catches to be had for Pospisil, with Sweet and Robert Lewis graduating.

5. Derrick Langford, cornerback (City College of San Francisco) – Without Sean Harper Jr. on the field for the bulk of the season, the Cougars’ defensive backs often had trouble combating the opponent’s biggest wideouts. The Cougars walked out of Stanford Stadium with a three-point win in October, but WSU’s corners, namely 5-9 Marcus Strong and 5-10 Darrien Molton, were mismatched against Stanford’s gargantuan receivers and tight ends. The Cougars have a few cornerbacks in this class, but Langford, at 6-3, would give them some height and size – not to mention junior college experience – in the defensive secondary. WSU has seen JJ Arcega-Whiteside for the last time, but the Cougars should have their hands full against Stanford next year with 6-7 Colby Parkinson and 6-5 Kaden Smith returning. A player like Langford could mitigate the damage against that type of athlete.