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Sports >  WSU football

‘A lot of guys in this state really fit what we want to do’: Washington State’s 10-man recruiting class features local flavor

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 16, 2021

Washington State Cougars head coach Jake Dickert is all smiles heading to the locker room after WSU defeated the Washington Huskies during the second half of a college football game on Friday, Nov 26, 2021, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash. WSU won the game 40-13  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars head coach Jake Dickert is all smiles heading to the locker room after WSU defeated the Washington Huskies during the second half of a college football game on Friday, Nov 26, 2021, at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash. WSU won the game 40-13 (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Newly hired head coach Jake Dickert made sure to fill his “foundational class” with local flavor.

Five Washingtonians headlined Washington State’s 10-man batch of new signees, each of whom inked a letter of intent with the Pullman school Wednesday morning – not long after the NCAA’s early signing period opened.

It’d been eight years since the Cougars landed so many in-state prospects in one class, according to 247Sports.com. Six Evergreen State products agreed to binding contracts with WSU in 2013.

“The biggest thing I’m excited about is that half of our class really starts from our home state,” said Dickert, who has reiterated over the past month that WSU can sustain success by “planting the flag” in Washington, a Pac-12 recruiting hotbed.

“We’re the state university, and I think that’s an important place to be, because when you go local, there’s an understanding and care and passion.

“We feel that a lot of guys in this state really fit what we want to do here.”

In shoring up their secondary – which will graduate several key pieces after WSU’s Sun Bowl matchup Dec. 31 against Miami – the Cougars looked to their backyard.

Safety Sam Lockett III returns to Eastern Washington about four years after wrapping up his high school career at Gonzaga Prep.

He began his college years at Utah State before transferring to the City College of San Francisco. WSU nickel Armani Marsh, another G-Prep grad, vouched for his former Bullpups teammate.

“We believe Sam can come in and be an instant impact,” Dickert said. “We know we’re losing both our starters (at safety) and two linebackers – the core of our defense. It was important for us to go get a veteran player that has played a similar style of defense.”

Another safety, speedster Leyton Smithson, signed with WSU out of Squalicum High in Bellingham, where he turned heads this year as a prolific quarterback in a backfield that featured high-potential running back Djouvensky “Ben” Schlenbaker, a top-60 player nationally at his position who also joined WSU on Wednesday.

“He’s a physical specimen,” Dickert said of Schlenbaker. “I think he’s going to be a great fit for our new offense and the physical nature of how we wanna run the ball.”

WSU reinforced a couple of other thin position groups, adding two-way Washington natives in prototypical middle linebacker Hudson Cedarland (Gig Harbor) and agile offensive tackle Jakobus Seth (Arlington).

Every incoming Cougar rookie earned a three-star rating from 247Sports.com, with Andre Dollar’s 88.17 grade topping the class.

WSU cast its net to the Southwest and reeled in perhaps its most intriguing acquisition. Dollar is the school’s first tight end recruit in over a decade, and he’s one of America’s best at the position.

Dickert told Matt Chazanow on a Wednesday radio show that he wouldn’t be surprised if Dollar turns out to be a three-year captain at WSU.

The nation’s No. 23-ranked tight end found himself in the Cougars’ recruiting crosshairs after the program hired offensive coordinator Eric Morris, whose system employs TEs and H-backs.

“Getting to know (Dollar) quickly in the past couple weeks, I just think he’s that multidimensional tool we’re really going to search for going forward,” Dickert said. “We’ll continue to look at a lot of positions on offense. That’s where the additional spots will be used, just really shaping it to coach Morris and what we want to do going forward.”

Just one other offensive player signed with WSU on Wednesday – Eric Wilder, a towering tackle from Utah.

WSU may have uncovered a defensive gem from Los Angeles in linebacker Taariq “Buddah” Al-Uqdah, the No. 2-rated Cougars recruit of the day. WSU fought off Pac-12 heavyweight Southern Cal for Al-Uqdah.

By virtue of his sideline-to-sideline play-making abilities, Al-Uqdah drew a comparison to WSU mainstay Jahad Woods.

“He’s a guy I think we can plug into our defense really early in his career,” Dickert said of Al-Uqdah. “I think he’s going to be an immediate impact guy for us.”

The Cougars’ secondary enjoyed the most significant boost on signing day, with hard-hitting Texan safety Bryce Grays and dynamic Floridian cornerback Javan Robinson rounding out the group of four new DBs.

“We’ll continue to (emphasize recruiting Washington), as well as our outreach,” Dickert said. “Javan’s an example. If you’re the best player in West Orange, Florida, we’re going to find you there, too.”

Lockett, Dollar, Schlenbaker and Cedarland will enroll early at WSU and participate in spring camp.

Cougars staffers spent their bye week in early November on the road. Unsure at that point whether they’d be returning to Pullman for the 2022 season, WSU coaches fanned out, touching base with their commits and examining talent in Washington, California, Texas, Florida and Georgia.

The program made a late push on the recruiting trail over the past couple of weeks, sending out its four recently hired assistants for a final sweep.

“We were in unique circumstances when you talk about recruiting this class – keeping these (recruits) together,” Dickert said.

“The biggest thing in the middle of the season was just leveling with these guys, ‘Hey, stay with us,’ ” Dickert told Chazanow. “When I got the opportunity to be the head coach, it was about building those relationships even more.”

Even after its midseason coaching shakeup, the Cougars managed to attract four newbies. Dollar, Lockett, Smithson and Grays all pledged to WSU after Oct. 18, when Nick Rolovich and four of his Cougar staff members were dismissed for failing to comply with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Lockett, who decommitted from San Jose State on Friday, didn’t settle on a landing spot until Wednesday. Dollar picked the Cougars one day before. Smithson and Grays chose crimson and gray in mid-November.

Apparently impressed by the team’s strong finish and future direction under Dickert, the six others stayed committed to the Cougars throughout the tumultuous campaign.

Two defected late. Edge rusher Ta’ita’i Uiagalelei, a product of national powerhouse Mater Dei, California, flipped to the University of Arizona on Wednesday morning. Adryan Lara, a standout prep quarterback from Arizona, decommitted from WSU last week.

“They’re going to be the foundation of our future, and we’ll continue to add pieces as we go,” Dickert said. “By no means did our current staff have the ability to work on this current class for 365 days. … We’re already monitoring guys.”

The Cougars typically ink closer to 20 players during the mid-December signing period, yet the lower total isn’t a major surprise considering their uncertain year. They intend to scour the transfer portal and assess the junior college ranks ahead of National Signing Day on Feb. 2.

They’re eyeing running backs, searching for two quarterbacks – maybe one experienced and one fresh out of high school – and trying to “re-establish our offensive line.”

Dickert is fairly comfortable with the Cougars’ youthful pool of explosive pass-catchers and their depth on the defensive line. After Wednesday’s gains, he’s more confident in WSU’s linebackers and secondary.

“In the last couple of years, we really shored up our future at the linebacker position,” he said. “We signed three safeties and still have the ability to maybe look at adding more. We feel good about the core of our defense in the back seven. I think the future is bright with these guys.”

As of press time, the Cougars’ 2022 class ranks 71st in the nation and ninth in the Pac-12, per 247Sports.com.

Jakobus SethPosition: Offensive tackle

High school: Lakewood High (Arlington, Washington)

Height/weight: 6-3, 280

Other P-5 offers: Oregon State

The three-star prospect and Haiti native out of Class 2A Lakewood has been committed to WSU since June. Seth has experience playing H-back and tight end on offense, and committed to the Cougars earlier this year as an edge rusher – he’s rated the No. 22 player in Washington at that position, according to 247Sports.com. But he’ll more likely play on the offensive line, where he looks “ready-made” for college football, Dickert noted.

Hudson Cedarland

Position: Linebacker

High school: Gig Harbor High (Washington)

Height/weight: 6-3, 215

Other P-5 offers: Minnesota, Oregon State

A three-star recruit and the No. 140 LB in the country (247), Cedarland stuck with the Cougars after being offered last week by Minnesota. Brandon Huffman, a 247 scout, sees Cedarland as a three-down linebacker who’s “just as good in coverage as he is shooting into the backfield and stopping the run.” Cedarland earned Class 3A South Sound Conference MVP honors this season.

Djouvensky “Ben” Schlenbaker

Position: Running back

High school: Squalicum High (Bellingham)

Height/weight: 6-1, 215

Other P-5 offers: Washington, Cal, Colorado, Virginia Tech

Schlenbaker gave an oral commitment to WSU in June and apparently reaffirmed his commitment during a visit to Pullman last week. One of the Evergreen State’s most touted recruits and an All-Washington talent in the Class 3A ranks, Schlenbaker is Squalicum’s all-time leading rusher – a three-star signee who ranks No. 66 nationally at his position (247).

Leyton Smithson

Position: Safety

High school: Squalicum (Bellingham)

Height/weight: 6-2, 190

Other P-5 offers: None

A quick DB who also plays alongside Schlenbaker as the Storm’s quarterback, Smithson committed to WSU late last month and the Cougars remained his best offer, even as his 247Sports.com composite ranking saw an uptick in the late stages of Squalicum’s season. Smithson starred as a running back for Mountain View, a Class 5A power in Idaho, before moving this year to Bellingham.

Sam Lockett III

Position: Safety

High school: Gonzaga Prep

Height/weight: 6-1, 205

Other P-5 offers: None

The three-star Spokanite ranks ninth in the country among junior college safeties, per 247Sports.com. He began his collegiate career as a walk-on at Utah State and played for the Aggies as a special teamer in 13 games in 2019 before transferring to the City College of San Francisco in late 2020. He posted 38 tackles and three picks with the Rams this season. Lockett has two seasons of eligibility remaining. He played prep ball alongside current WSU nickel Armani Marsh.

Taariq “Buddah” Al-Uqdah

Position: Linebacker

High school: Inglewood (California) High

Height/weight: 6-0, 218

Other P-5 offers: USC, Washington, Arizona, Colorado, Kansas

Al-Uqdah has stayed onboard with WSU since February. The Cougars reeled in the high school All-American after Southern Cal made a recent push. One of the Cougars’ two most coveted signees in this class, the versatile Al-Uqdah is the 49th-best player in California and a top-60 LB in the country (247). “His passion and physicality I think are going to remind you of No. 13 (Jahad Woods),” Dickert said.

Andre Dollar

Position: Tight end

High school: Mustang (Oklahoma) High

Height/weight: 6-6, 230

Other P-5 offers: Oregon, Arizona State, Arkansas, Iowa State, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, NC State, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Purdue, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech.

Dollar, the Cougars’ top-rated signee of the day, flipped from Oregon to WSU a day before the early signing period opened, giving the Pullman school its first tight end commit in over a decade. The son of a coach and the No. 23-ranked TE in his class, Dollar has a sharp football mind and is a big-play threat who can split out as a receiver or lead-block as an H-back. Dickert expects Dollar to fill out to about 255 pounds and present a red-zone threat on lobbed passes. “That type of versatility is a great weapon to have in the future,” Dickert said.

Eric Wilder

Position: Offensive tackle

High school: Syracuse (Utah) High

Height/weight: 6-5, 280

Other P-5 offers: UCLA, Cal

The three-star recruit is expected to play tackle after earning first-team All-Region honors as a prep standout. Wilder, who gave WSU an oral commitment in June, is a top-100 high school OT nationally (247). Cougars recruiting director Josh Omura compared Wilder to current left tackle Liam Ryan, a 42-game starter at WSU.

Javan Robinson

Position: Cornerback

High school: West Orange High (Winter Garden, Florida)

Height/weight: 5-11, 160

Other P-5 offers: None

Dickert called Robinson an underrated signee who has a chance to contribute early in his career. Explosive with good range for a corner, Robinson comes in at No. 110 on 247Sports.com’s national CB rankings. WSU defensive assistant AJ Cooper said the Cougars clocked Robinson’s 40-yard dash time at 4.4 seconds.

Bryce Grays

Position: Safety

High school: Fort Bend Christian Academy (Sugar Land, Texas)

Height/weight: 5-11, 190

Other P-5 offers: None

Earned a three-star grade from 247Sports.com after committing to WSU last month. A vicious downhill hitter, Grays shines on blitzes and in open space. “His physical presence is an old-school approach to the game,” Dickert said. Played at the 5A level in Texas – the state’s No. 2 classification.

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