When luck shines on the recruiting trail

GOOD RECRUITING, says former WSU head coach Jim Walden, is all about the tangible -- hard work -- and the intangible -- forecasting how a kid will evolve over time. Sometimes there's another factor in play: Good old fashioned luck. In a wide-ranging conversation with CF.C last week, he shared two memorable tales from the Cougar recruiting trail that illustrate the power of Lady Fortuna.

Mark Rypien was a big-bodied, rifle-armed quarterback from Spokane's Shadle Park High who was hearing from schools all over the country. He was a Parade All-American. Bear Bryant was calling him at home. And one fall evening in 1980 he had Jim Walden sitting in the family living room, telling him why he belonged at WSU.

"I had my spiel ready and I get in there and I start talking and I'm really on a roll," Walden remembers. "I really want this kid to be a Cougar. Now remember, this was in the days before the internet and all the ratings and things like that. To put Mark into perspective, he today would be rated one of the top two or three high school quarterbacks in the entire country. Everybody wanted him ...

"So we're sitting there, Mark and his mom and dad, and I'm talking and talking. I'm about 30 minutes into my presentation and not stopping anytime soon when Mark politely raises a finger and says, ‘Excuse me coach, but you don't need to say anything more because I've already decided I'm coming to WSU!' Mom and dad start laughing I about fall out of my chair."

That was it.

Rypien never took an official visit to another school.

Two bits of fate were shining on the Cougars. Rypien idolized Jack Thompson and wanted to follow in the Throwin' Samoan's footsteps. And he wanted to be close to home so his folks could be in the stands every Saturday.

"Mark was getting ready for basketball season and felt that Shadle had a chance to win the state title that year, which they did, and he didn't want any distractions. He wanted the recruiting process over with, and he knew he wanted to be a Cougar, so you have to hand it to him."

By the time he wrapped up his Cougar career in 1985, this future Pro Bowler and Super Bowl MVP was the No. 2 passer in school history behind Thompson. He still ranks in the WSU career top ten in all major passing categories.


Two years after Rypien joined the Cougars, Walden landed another, soon-to-be-a-star recruit in a most unorthodox way.

"You talk about being in the right place at the right time, this one really takes the cake," says Walden.

"I'm in California for a coaches' convention, about a week before we open fall camp. I'm speaking the next day and get to town late in the afternoon when most everyone else attending the thing is out watching a high school all-star game. So I go into the hotel bar to wait for everyone, and the guy next to me is a coach at Sacramento State. We start talking and he tells about a kid named Ricky Reynolds who is a great ballplayer but hasn't been recruited by anybody and that I should give him a serious look. He gives me a complete run down and says Ricky is probably just going to go play at Fresno (City) College.

"Later that evening, one of our assistants, Jimmy Burrow, comes back to the hotel from the all-star game and tells me he found a cornerback with great feet, hips and speed and he hasn't signed with anybody. I say, ‘Is it Ricky Reynolds?' and Jimmy looks at me like I must be the most far-sighted head coach he has ever met."

Burrow tells Walden that Oregon coaches were also taking note of the unsung product from Luther Burbank High in Sacramento, so the two decide to call Reynolds that night and offer him a scholarship.

Mind you, fall camp is set to start in a matter of days.

"I call Ricky up, tell him who I am and ask him if he'd like a scholarship to Washington State. He pauses for about five seconds, and then says yes. That was the extent of our recruiting of one of the great defensive backs ever to play at Washington State.

"This was on a Thursday or Friday. By Monday, all his paperwork is done and on Wednesday he's in Pullman for the start of fall practices," Walden says.

Reynolds became a Cougar mainstay and earned second-team All-American honors 1986. He was drafted in the second round by Tampa Bay and went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL with the Bucs and Patriots.

Luck, the old adage says, is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity. And sometimes, says Walden, it's just a matter of having a gem fall right into your lap.

Cougfan Top Stories