PULLMAN – Washington State’s football team is on the brink of significant change. Three Cougars have announced their plans to enter the transfer portal, which officially opens on Monday, marking the beginning of what could be a transformative offseason for WSU.
Here is a primer for that period of time for the Cougars: Which players have entered the portal, which ones will the program prioritize retaining, and which names could the team try to land?
“I think the big-picture stuff does start on Monday,” WSU coach Jake Dickert said on Saturday, shortly after his group’s season-ending loss to No. 4 Washington. “Roster retention is No. 1, because I know what the future can be. I know what it can be.
“But the problem is, there’s a lot of things in college football that don’t sit well with me. And those things are working behind the scenes already. So we’re gonna work hard to do everything we can to keep this group together, because I see a clear vision of what we can be, and I think that future can be really bright.”
Players already planning to hit the portal
Souza, a junior defensive tackle who made his announcement on Tuesday, appeared in two games in four years at WSU. Originally a two-star prospect out of Camas, Washington, Souza saw action in one game this fall.
A backup cornerback who appeared in seven games and started in one, Robinson shared his plans to hit the portal on Nov. 16, prior to WSU’s final home game of the season, a win over Colorado. He recorded one pass breakup, according to Pro Football Focus. He allowed 13 catches on 19 targets.
A long snapper, Rodarte never saw any action at WSU, redshirting in 2022. He played behind longtime long snapper Simon Samarzich.
Sheffield, a wide receiver who was once regarded as a big-time get for WSU, departed the program back in September. He left on his own accord, Dickert said. He played in the first two games of the season, totaling four catches for 26 yards.
Players WSU would do well to retain
The Cougars’ starting quarterback has offers of 10 name, image and likeness (NIL) deals that count $1 million and upward each, according to national college football analyst Brock Huard, who called Saturday’s Apple Cup for Fox.
If that’s the going rate for a player the caliber of Ward, who completed 67% of his passes for 3,732 yards and 25 touchdowns against seven interceptions, the Cougars’ QB will have some blue-blood suitors. He was a bit erratic this fall, losing 11 fumbles and taking some untimely sacks, but there’s no denying his talent, which may also give him a path to the NFL draft – if that’s the path he takes.
He has a strong arm and a knack for eluding pressure in the pocket, two qualities that would make him a hot commodity in the portal and in the NFL. If he decides to test the waters in either capacity, he will surely have options.
Ward has graduated, so he is free to transfer a second time without sitting out a year.
“He’s the first Power Five head coach that I played for,” Ward said of Dickert after Saturday’s game.
“So he means a lot in my life. He has a lot in my heart. He took a chance on me when a lot of coaches didn’t. I’ll forever owe that to him.”
Hicks was WSU’s best secondary player this season. Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded player in that department, Hicks graded out at 82.8, posting three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and four pass break-ups.
Hicks should also have suitors on the open market – and perhaps he already does. In a CougFan story from early November, Hicks said his father, Lamont, has heard from other schools’ representatives who are interested in his services. No doubt that will continue in the offseason, especially with Hicks’ interception in the Apple Cup.
The Cougars’ best cornerback, Smith-Wade missed the final five games of the season with an undisclosed injury, according to Dickert. That amounted to a costly absence for WSU, which missed a guy who had seven pass break-ups and allowed just 18 receptions on 37 targets.
Even in limited game action this season, Smith-Wade improved his stock, which was lucrative last offseason. Around that time, he turned down a big NIL payday from Michigan, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. He’s expected to field similar offers this time around.
Williams blossomed into the Cougars’ best deep-ball receiver this fall, hauling in one of his best catches in Saturday’s Apple Cup, an over-the-shoulder snag in which he kept one foot in bounds for a touchdown. All told, he had 61 catches for 842 yards and six touchdowns.
Originally a transfer from UNLV, Williams was one of Ward’s favorite targets, especially deeper down the field. His longest catch this season went for 63 yards.
Willliams has transferred once, though, so he would need a waiver to transfer to another four-year school.
Players WSU might target
Leavitt, a quarterback at Michigan State, announced on Monday he was entering the transfer portal.
That’s noteworthy for Washington State because in July 2022, he committed to the Cougars, only to decommit five months later.
Could WSU reoffer him in the portal this time around? It’s certainly possible, especially if Ward opts to leave. Out of high school, 247 Sports rated Leavitt a four-star prospect.
“Leavitt has shown a new weapon too, his feet and legs,” 247 Sports recruiting editor Brandon Huffman wrote. “It’s his decision-making, his patience and confidence in the pocket and the versatility that is really evident.”
In four games this season at MSU, Leavitt completed 15 of 23 passes for 139 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
A quarterback at Kansas State, Lara also shared on Monday that he was planning to hit the transfer portal. Like Leavitt, Lara was also once committed to WSU, pledging in September 2020. He decommitted three months later, and he committed to K-State in January 2021.
Lara would be an interesting WSU target for the same reasons Leavitt would. Lara fashions himself more of a pocket passer, using a strong arm to find receivers downfield.
“Broad-shouldered frame with strong lower half,” 247 Sports mountain region recruiting analyst Blair Angulo wrote of Lara, who hails from Goodyear, Arizona. “Strong-armed quarterback with ability to air it out downfield. Shows nice touch on deep throws. Creates a lot of torque with his upper body and can sling ball from different angles.”
If Ollie’s name sounds familiar, it should. Ollie played the 2020-2022 seasons as a Cougar, totaling 70 catches for 807 yards and four touchdowns in those three years.
He hit the portal after last season, and he chose Cincinnati. There, Ollie was passed up on the depth chart, finishing with two catches for 50 yards in 11 games on the season.
If the Cougars want to take another swing at Ollie, this might be their chance.