PULLMAN – The uncertainty of recruiting is part of what makes it so intriguing to college football fans this time of year and, likewise, so unnerving for coaching staffs who work around the clock and travel through the country to nail down their signing class before Dec. 18.
When this week began, Alaka’i Gilman, a three-star prospect from the Hawaiian island of Oahu, was firmly committed to Washington State. Tuesday afternoon, the Punahou High standout reneged on a pledge he made to the Cougars six months ago. Friday evening, Gilman officially swapped shades of red, trading crimson for cardinal when he committed to David Shaw and Stanford.
Gilman is certainly not the first player to change allegiances after committing to the Cougars, nor is he the first in this class, joining Louisville-bound wide receiver Christian Fitzpatrick, who pledged to WSU in late July before flipping to the Cardinals in October.
Fans and coaches in Pullman are accustomed to the peaks and valleys of recruiting. The Cougars could fill an entire depth chart with recruits who were headed to the Palouse before calling an audible. With the NCAA’s early signing period approaching, we trimmed the depth chart down to 10 standout players who were committed to WSU under Mike Leach before switching, and graded the impact of their loss on a 1-5 scale.
1. Isaiah Hodgins, WR, Oregon State
Committed: May 5, 2016
Decommitted: Aug. 15, 2016
WSU’s pursuit of the All-Pac-12 receiver was revisited before the Beavers came to Martin Stadium for the second-to-last game of the regular season – a thrilling 54-53 win on Senior Day. Hodgins was firm with the Cougars for 3 1/2 months and ex-WSU receiver Gabe Marks wore the player’s high school number to practice when Hodgins paid a visit during fall camp. Hodgins was statistically one of the best receivers in the Pac-12 this season, catching 86 passes for 1,171 yards and 13 touchdowns before declaring early for the NFL draft.
Impact: 2. The Cougars signed Easop Winston, Tay Martin, Travell Harris and Jamire Calvin in the class and had arguably the deepest WR group in the country this season.
2. Joe Tryon, DL, Washington
Committed: Aug. 15, 2016
Decommitted: Jan. 13, 2017
Tryon stuck a knife into the Cougars when he reopened his recruitment right before his senior season at Hazen High in Renton, then twisted it when he chose WSU’s bitter in-state rival. It’s not a stretch to think one of the Cougars’ last two Apple Cup losses could have gone differently had Tryon been wearing crimson instead of purple. The Huskies’ edge rusher had three tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack in UW’s 13-point win last year. He had one of his top games as a redshirt sophomore in the most recent rivalry meeting, sacking Anthony Gordon twice in the Huskies’ 31-13 rout.
Impact: 5. A player of Tryon’s caliber could have helped WSU reverse a four-point loss to UCLA, a three-point loss to Arizona State or a two-point loss to Oregon.
3. Ian Book, QB, Notre Dame
Committed: April 11, 2015
Decommitted: Aug. 4, 2015
Would Mike Leach have traded Brian Kelly’s second-year starter for either of the Cougars’ last three quarterbacks? It’s hard to imagine. But at the time of Book’s decommitment, Gardner Minshew was a complete unknown, and few could have guessed a junior college transfer like Anthony Gordon would develop into the Pac-12’s first 5,000-yard passer. Notre Dame fans are still waiting on Book to make the jump from “very good” to “elite,” but it’s also hard to argue with someone who carried his team to the College Football Playoff.
Impact: 2. The Cougars may soon have a third straight QB taken in the NFL draft, but it’s still interesting to wonder what the Air Raid may have looked like with Book’s mobility.
4. Montrel Meander, LB, Texas/Grambling State
Committed: Jan. 20, 2013
Decommitted: Feb. 4, 2013
Not long after Leach arrived in Pullman, the Cougars started scouting a three-star safety/wide receiver out of Palo Duro High School in Amarillo, Texas. Meander was committed to WSU for just over a month, but Texas rolled out the burnt orange carpet on his official visit, inviting Earl Campbell and Vince Young back to Austin to help sway the high school player. Meander didn’t finish his career in the Big 12, eventually transferring to FCS Grambling State, but he’s bounced around the NFL and is on the Cleveland Browns’ practice squad.
Impact: 2. Leach’s early teams in Pullman would have taken all the help they could get on defense, but Meander may not have been a sure-fire starter for the Cougars, and Texas dismissed him after a sexual assault charge.
5. Kyahva Tezino, LB, San Diego State
Committed: Dec. 16, 2014
Decommitted: Feb. 2, 2015
It isn’t often a WSU commit flips to a Mountain West program. The opposite has happened twice this year, with Jackson Lataimua, a former Nevada pledge, and Julian Ripley, a former San Diego State commit. But four years ago, the Aztecs managed to change Tezino’s mind and the linebacker has gone on to a brilliant career at the midmajor level. The two-time All-Mountain West first-team performer is a projected NFL draft pick and will leave SDSU with 287 total tackles.
Impact: 5. Using the same logic we used with Tryon earlier, it’s safe to assume a future pro could have helped the worst defense in the Pac-12.
6. Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
Committed: July 14, 2014
Decommitted: Feb. 4, 2015
The Cougars had the speedy receiver in their plans for six months before USC arrived late to flip Burnett on signing day. The 6-foot, 186-pound slot receiver became a reliable target at USC, though Burnett, Sam Darnold and the fifth-ranked Trojans came up short in Pullman two years ago, losing 30-27. USC bounced back to make the Rose Bowl and Burnett was named the MVP of “The Grandaddy of Them All,” catching 13 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns.
Impact: 3. Burnett and River Cracraft would have been lethal in the slot together. While the USC star would’ve helped out, wide receiver production wasn’t an issue for the Cougars from 2015-17.
7. Cyrus Habibi-Likio, RB, Oregon
Committed: May 3, 2016
Decommitted: Sept. 18, 2016
A three-star prospect, Habibi-Liko decommitted from Jim Mastro and wound up playing for the longtime running backs coach anyway. Oregon’s redshirt sophomore trucked into the end zone seven times last year – 11th most among FBS freshmen – and was a sure thing on short-yardage situations for the Pac-12 champion Ducks this year, rushing for 337 yards and 10 touchdowns. Similar to Burnett, Habibi-Likio’s decison to decommit from WSU allowed him to play in the Rose Bowl, and maybe he’ll appear in a couple with two more years of eligibility remaining.
Impact: 3. It’s unlikely Habibi-Likio would have taken carries away from James Williams or Max Borghi last year. Because the Ducks don’t throw to their running backs too much, it’s unclear how he would have fared in an offense that would want him to catch the ball and make plays after the catch.
8. DeMarcus Ayers, WR, Houston
Committed: June 14, 2012
Decommitted: Dec. 13, 2012
When inside receivers coach Eric Morris left the Cougars for Texas Tech, Ayers also ditched WSU for a school in the Longhorn State. The small but athletic receiver had a stellar career at Houston, finishing his senior season with All-American Athletic Conference first-team honors as a wide receiver and return specialist. Ayers led the AAC and ranked sixth nationally with 98 receptions, also ranking 18th nationally with 1,222 yards. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers and spent time with two other NFL teams.
Impact: 4. WSU’s depth at receiver from 2013-15 wasn’t as strong as it is now. Ayers’ skills as a returner would have been a nice addition, especially considering how the Cougars struggled on special teams early on in Leach’s tenure.
9. Dillon Faamatau, DT, Oklahoma
Committed: Dec. 15, 2014
Decommitted: Jan. 26, 2015
The Cougars have struggled traditionally to recruit big, quick nose tackles, and they nearly had one signed in 2015 until Faamatau made a last-minute switch to Arizona State. The Norwalk, California, native signed with the Sun Devils and played in Tempe for one year before transferring to Cerritos College. Faamatau committed to USC in April 2017, but he also flipped on the Trojans, switching to Oklahoma. He’s since stayed put in Norman and was listed as one of two backup noseguards for Alex Grinch and the Sooners before the Big 12 championship game. He enters the College Football Playoff with OU.
Impact: 3. Even if the Cougars did wind up with Faamatau’s services, there’s a chance someone who’s played at three schools and committed to five wouldn’t have stuck in Pullman. Granted, if he did, Faamatau surely would have carved out a role.
10. Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas A&M
Committed: March 28, 2017
Decommitted: June 2, 2017
A 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end, Wilson decommitted from the Cougars, citing the need to “enjoy the recruiting process and pick a school that best fits me.” With offers from Texas A&M, Tennessee, Arkansas, Baylor, Florida, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas, Ole Miss and others, Wilson wasn’t lacking options. He signed with the Aggies and made an impact this fall as a redshirt freshman, appearing in 11 games as a backup and totaling 12 tackles with three tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks.
Impact: 3. WSU graduated its starting defensive end last season (Logan Tago) and Nnamdi Oguayo is set to play his last college game in the Cheez-It Bowl. Even if Wilson wouldn’t have started in Pullman, having him on the depth chart would have been a plus.
Honorable mentions: Austin Joyner (DB, Washington); BJ Thompson (DL, Baylor/Stephen F. Austin); Alec Anderson (OL, UCLA); Dahu Green (WR, Oklahoma/Arkansas State).
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