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Washington State bolsters both sides of line, inking two players on National Signing Day

PULLMAN – As far as a National Signing Day workload goes, Wednesday’s was on the lighter side for Mike Leach and his Washington State staff.

Just how light?

The day started at 6:37 a.m. when the Cougars received a letter of intent from high school defensive end Nicholas Sheetz.

Nearly 13 minutes later, it was over.

Jimmy Price, a junior college offensive tackle, made it official at 6:50, capping a short yet productive signing day for the Cougars.

Historically, Feb. 6 has been the busiest day of the year for college football programs across America. But since the inception of the early signing period, a three-day stretch in late December has become far more pivotal than a 24-hour block in early February.

Leach and his coaches had four scholarships to offer after 20 recruits signed binding agreements with the Cougars in December. Sheetz and Price accounted for two of those, which keeps two more scholarships vacant.

Last year, the Cougars still had a few to spare in May when they signed graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew and West Virginia transfer nose tackle Lamonte McDougle, along with JC safety Chad Davis Jr.

WSU managed to strengthen both sides of the line, signing a 6-foot-3, 255-pound edge rusher, and a 6-5, 295-pound offensive lineman with previous experience, both at the junior college and FCS level.

A native of Greenwood, South Carolina, Sheetz was a three-year letterman at Emerald High School, where he was an all-region defensive lineman his junior and senior season. The three-star prospect was rated the No. 36 overall recruit in South Carolina and tallied 52 tackles, nine tackles for loss, four sacks and six pass breakups last fall.

Leach didn’t hold an official press conference but commented on both players in a school release.

The coach called Sheetz a “big, explosive defensive linemen who has an incredibly quick first step. He is a productive player who consistently pressures the quarterback.”

The Cougars intended to sign four defensive linemen during the early period, but two defensive tackle targets – Nassir Sims and Dejon Benton – gave their signatures to San Diego State and USC, respectively. WSU salvaged one of those spots by inking Sheetz, a lightly recruited prospect who didn’t hold a Power Five offer until the Cougars came knocking late in the process.

“(Defensive line) coach (Jeff) Phelps went all over the country those last three weeks and really went after whoever, wherever they were located,” WSU Chief of Staff Dave Emerick told Matt Chazanow, Alex Brink and Jessamyn McIntyre on the NSD19 Radio Show. “We found some really good ones and really liked Nick the best of the group we were evaluating at that time. Had some early academic issues, so some schools had a bunch of initial interest, a bunch of offers, then the bigger schools maybe dropped off and waited a little bit for his academic situation to be cleared up.”

Price, who spent one year at Stephen F. Austin before transferring to Tyler JC, wasn’t on WSU’s radar until former Lumberjacks OL coach Bill Best referred him to Cougars OL coach Mason Miller. Price got another glowing reference from an assistant coach at Incarnate Word, where Miller and WSU had been holding practices leading up to the Alamo Bowl.

“Normally we like to develop guys, high school guys, and go from there. But it’s a unique situation with Jimmy,” Miller said on the NSD show. “We go down to bowl practice and another one of our friends that was at Incarnate Word comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey, that big tackle at Tyler, you should probably get on him. He looks just like your guys.’ Big get, he’s all of what you want.”

The Cougars return four starters on the O-line, but lose All-American left tackle Andre Dillard. Price could compete for Dillard’s job or potentially Abraham Lucas’ right tackle spot if the Cougars opt to move the Freshman All-American to the other side of the line. Price, who played in eight games at SFA and started in two, has three years to play two and therefore could redshirt in 2019.

“It’ll add some depth into that class with Abe and Brian Greene, where we only have two guys in there,” Miller said. “So it’s a win-win for us. Really excited about him and the other three we signed in the early signing class.”