Of the 17 kids that joined WSU's 2012 class after Mike Leach became head coach, 11 are from Southern California. Of them, I don't believe Washington State was high on any of their lists until the new staff arrived. In addition, the Cougs were in on other touted SoCal prospects who wound up going elsewhere but nonetheless gave the Cougs long looks after the Leach Gang came on.
The level of talent WSU pulled out of Southern California was Grade A. I don't base that on the number of stars placed next to their names. I base that on what other schools offered scholarships to these kids, and I'm here to tell you the Cougs weren't competing against Portland State or Northern Colorado. They were beating out other Pac-12 schools, plus the likes of Auburn, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kansas State, for these kids.
What WSU did in Southern California this recruiting cycle, given the compressed time line and the fact none of these kids were high on WSU beforehand, is really something special. It's why I think Dennis Simmons is the Pac-12 recruiter of the year.
After meeting him last week at the Signing Day celebration in Spokane, I have a much clearer picture why the Cougars fared so well in the south land in such a short period of time.
The guy is the complete package.
He's smart and articulate, as you might imagine from someone who holds two degrees from BYU and was once an assistant AD at Cornell. But he's also personable and earnest. To top it off, he's stands 6-4 and is in shape.
Bottom line, the dude has a presence about him. If I'm a parent and he comes walking into the living room, I'll tell you right now I'd want my kid playing for the guy. And clearly, based on WSU's Signing Day haul, other folks feel the same way.
By the way, I talked with Dennis a bit about his philosophy as a receivers coach. No doubt about it, he's a stickler on technique, which should make for a smooth transition for the Cougar wideouts brought up in the Mike Levenseller way.
I HAD THE CHANCE AT THE Spokane function to talk with most of the Cougar coaching staff. The most heart-warming moment was meeting Mike Leach. Not only did he remember our visit (as well as damn near every key play and player) at the 2008 EWU-Texas Tech game, but he read my December column about him on Cougfan.com! My year has been made.
More than 700 people were on hand for the event, and I must say the optimism and excitement they brought to the room put goose bumps on my neck. The only comparable "buzz" like that I can remember was at the Red Lion Hotel in Seattle the night before the 1997 Apple Cup that sent the Cougs to the Rose Bowl.
Leach was in his element. He not only worked the crowd, but he owned the crowd. His staff was also as gracious and friendly as you could imagine.
Among the former Cougar football standouts who were on hand were Jack Thompson, Mark Rypien, Mark McKay, James Darling, Ron Hawkins and Billy Newman.
|JEFF CHOATE AT 2008 POINSETTIA BOWL, BOISE STATE VS. TCU.|
Eric Russell, who also is a St. Maries native, comes to WSU from Tennessee. He said he realized quickly after moving out here that he wasn't in SEC country any more. At Tennessee, during the height of the recruiting season, he'd try to personally visit with five high school coaches per day. He said he was aided nicely in that quest by high school administrators who would quickly pull their head coaches out of class to come talk. The longest wait was maybe 10 minutes. Not so on the West Coast, he said. The cultural difference is stark. Administrators out here make no bones about it: Coaches will be available once the class period is over.
For Cougar fans who envision the Cougar defense returning to the blitzing glory of 2001-03, I have three words: Hold your horses. New defensive coordinator Mike Breske does like to blitz, and in a variety of ways, but the key to making the blitz work he emphasized last week is having two lockdown corners. The Cougars return all their corner talent from last season (Nolan Washington, Damante Horton, Daniel Simmons, Brandon Golden and Tracy Clark), plus redshirt Spencer Waseem, so there's a solid, experienced base from which to start. But unless at least two of them progress to the "lockdown" category, look for the Cougs to be playing more cover-4 than not.
In case you missed 'em, other recent column's by Paul Sorensen include:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.