By STEPHEN A. NORRIS <BR>Cougfan.com Correspondent
PULLMAN - - Four years ago if you would have asked <b>Will Derting</b> where he would be by 2002, he would have told you, "Probably not playing college football."
Derting is one of several Cougars that head up the list of small school players who have wiggled their way out of the fish bowl and into the vast ocean that is the Pac-10.
"I was really nervous when I first came here," Derting said. "I didn't know what it'd be like. I didn't think I was very good, I still don't, but I guess the coaches thought I was alright."
Alright enough to start at linebacker his freshman season. Derting racked up 46 tackles in eight games last season. In his debut game Derting had three interceptions against Nevada at Seahawks Stadium in front of 60,000 people. One of those interceptions he returned 98 yards touchdown - - a school record.
"I imagined when he walked into Seahawks Stadium, that was a little different than Okanogan," said WSU head coach Bill Doba.
As many players who come out of small schools are, Derting too, was a gamble.
"It's more difficult to evaluate talent with kids from small schools," Doba said. "You see someone knocking the heck out of a kid but you wonder if that guy he's hitting is any good."
As difficult as it is for college coaches to recruit the right player from small schools, it is even more difficult for those players to make a name for themselves. Players like Derting, Pat Bennett, Mike Shelford and Matt Mullenix didn't grace the pages of the major newspapers every Saturday afternoon, didn't have the opportunity to play against the best talent pool, in front of the largest crowds and many times their schools cannot afford the same equipment as larger schools who get more state funding.
"My school wasn't even on the national recruiting list," said grayshirt Mullenix, who played for Liberty of Spangle, a B (150 students or less in grades 10-12) school. "The last guy who played here from my school was in 1994."
"I didn't even lift weights until the summer before I came here," said redshirt senior Shelford, an invited walk-on who played for King's, a 1A school (150-300) from the Chinook league.
Making a name for themselves oftentimes can come at a hefty price. Players spend money on camps and sometimes recruiting services.
"I used a recruiting service (Blue Chip)," said sophomore linebacker Bennett, who played at Forks, a 2A school located on the Olympic Peninsula, west of the mountains. "It cost my family about $700. It hurt their pockets a little, but it paid off (with a scholarship)."
Bennett's road to Division I football was a different story than the other three. During his freshman year former University of Washington coach, Jim Lambright, told Bennett that he had a legit chance of playing for the Huskies. When the Huskies changed coaches, Bennett began attending the WSU camps, where ... "Coach Doba loved me from the beginning."
Because the players are not always competing against the top talent in the state, there can be gaps in the talent level when they begin their college careers.
"It doesn't matter what level you played at in high school everything goes faster here," Doba said. "Speed is the biggest difference."
Derting immediately noticed a difference.
"The guys are like 10 times bigger and faster," he said. "I like it though, it's funner and more intense. But the difference is like black and white."