Recruiting stays in your blood, says Walden

YOU CAN TAKE the coach out of the talent chase, but you can't take the talent chase out of the coach. For 31 years, as an assistant and head man in some of the nation's most competitive conferences, Jim Walden lived recruiting. He's been retired for years, but when it comes to the art of stocking rosters he can't help but follow every step -- especially as it regards Washington State.

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This year and last, Walden says, there's been no better measure of how well WSU's coaching staff is doing than this: the zeal in which coaches from others schools try to poach Cougar verbal commits late in the stretch run to Signing Day.

"I'm amazed at how many coaches from other schools are chasing the kids Paul Wulff and his staff are finding," Walden told CF.C today in a phone conversation from his winter home near Tucson. "The last 2-3 years it's been almost epidemic how many schools have come barkin' after WSU's kids with an offer when there's just a couple weeks left until letters of intent are signed."

The former Cougar head coach wouldn't name names, but said two Pac-10 schools in particular are overwhelming offenders.

"Where have you been all this time? That's what I want to know. The answer is that they're not working hard. They know Paul and his staff do a great job of finding and evaluating talent, so they try to ride on their backs," said Walden, who has been the Cougars' radio color commentator for the last decade.

"The Cougs have lost a few kids along way, but what it really tells you is that this staff is doing a great job of assessing talent and their counterparts know it. I'm convinced there's not been a coaching staff -- top to bottom -- at any time at Washington State, and that includes when I was there, that works harder at recruiting than this bunch."

AS TESTAMENT, Walden points to offensive tackle John Fullington, a member of last year's recruiting class who became a starter mid-way through last season, as Exhibit A.

"They're digging up guys I used to love to find, like Fullington. That kid is going places and nobody else was seriously looking at him last year until late. To find a kid like that means you've got to do your homework. Deone Bucannon is another great example. Finding those types of players is what separates good recruiters from average ones."

Once the wins on the field start piling up for WSU, and he believes that will happen in a notable way this season, then the poaching won't be as big a concern, Walden says. Neither will the amount of negative recruiting going on regularly against the Cougs because of the depths from which Wulff had to rebuild the program.

"I look at last year's class and what I sense to be the quality of this year's class and I'm saying these coaches are doing a marvelous job. If they can do that in the face of what I know is a lot of negative recruiting against them, imagine what we're going to see when those schools can no longer play that card. How good could things get?"

WALDEN SAID he was struck by several pieces of the recruiting puzzle the Cougars unveiled yesterday ...

  • "The number one priority was linemen, and they got a bunch of ‘em. There will be four seniors starting on the offensive line this season, so you have to have that pipeline ready to go. I was nervous about that coming into the recruiting cycle, but yesterday really warmed my heart."

  • "Physically, you look at the heights and weights and ask if they match up right for the position they're intended to play. I look at the offensive guards -- Matt Goetz at 6-4, 280 and Alex Mitchell at 6-3, 300 – and I say yes. I look at Wendell Taiese at 6-6, 340, and I say yes. I look at Marcus Mason at 5-8 ½, 175 pounds and 4.4 speed like Quizz Rodgers and I say yes, that'll do it for me. You go on down the list and it all matches up nicely. They're tall where they need to be tall, they're fast where they need to be fast and they're big where they need to be big. Of course, all that's on paper. We won't know for awhile yet what that means on the field."

  • "I love seeing guys going to the school where their dads played, and Paul is doing a great job bringing those kids into the program -- something I think was lost for a bit before he came on board. So I'm extremely pleased to see Tana Pritchard and Logan Mayes in the class. Part of that is because both their dads played for me, but the other part is that they've grown up as Cougars and that means they bring a certain excitement and commitment to the program and that is infectious. You now they're going to work their butts off."

  • "All those Florida guys in the class tells me someone is doing their job. Between Orlando and Pullman I'm guessing there are, geographically speaking, at least 50 Division I-A schools. Getting those players to WSU from that far away says a lot."

  • "From everything I've seen and heard, Chester Sua is the most tenacious, ram-tacklin' linebacker on the planet. If he's got a bigger motor than C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi, then we've got a whole lot of fun Saturdays in store. And don't forget Tana (Pritchard) had to be held out of scrimmages and contact drills by his high school coach because he was knocking so many people out."

  • "Max Hersey, (who is listed as a linebacker but will probably play tight end), is a very tough, good looking football player, wherever he ends up."

    WALDEN SAID BOBO BRAYTON was the first person he heard use the now-popular phrase, "Recruiting is like shaving -- if you don't do it every day you look like &$@%."

    When Wulff took the job at Washington State he said on Day One that he would have a staff of recruiters -- not two or three good ones, which is common at many schools -- but an entire staff. That approach is starting to pay off, Walden says.

    "This season, for the first time since he's been at WSU, Paul has athletes -- Pac-10 athletes -- at every position who have faced real bullets. He's not going to be stuck plugging holes like he's had to up to now. That will allow this program to take a giant step forward."

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