Mike Price and his recruiting trail lessons

THE MAN WHO led Washington State to two Rose Bowls in the span of five calendar years says if there was a recruiting elixir that built his great 1997 and 2002 Cougar teams, he'd write up the recipe and sell it for a mint. While there was no magic potion, the cornerstones of that success are pretty clear, Mike Price told Cougfan.com in a telephone conversation this week from his home in El Paso.

Foremost, he said, was his staff's ability to project what position a high school player might excel in once on campus.

"If there was anything we did well as a staff, it was looking at a kid and projecting," he said. "We went after a lot of tight end-type guys, 6-5, 250. Josh Parrish, Rien Long, Dorian Boose, Leon Bender -- they were all high school tight ends."

Long, Boose and Bender starred on the defensive line at WSU. Boose and Bender were taken in the second round of the NFL draft and Long went in the fourth round after winning the Outland Trophy. Parrish became a first-team All-Pac-10 offensive lineman.

LEON BENDER: 2nd-team All-American in '97.

"You look at the Fab Five -- none of them played receiver in high school, and one (Chris Jackson) never even played the game of football in high school. It's all projection," said Price, who spent 14 seasons as head coach at WSU and just retired after nine at UTEP.

He points to his legendary Palouse Posse defenses of 1993 and 1994 as more proof of the power of projection. Three of the linebackers (Ron Childs, Mark Fields and Anthony McClanahan) were high school running backs, and three of the defensive backs were high school receivers or running backs (Singor Mobley. Torey Hunter and John Rushing).

The projecting piece of the recruiting equation goes beyond what position a prospect will play. It also extends to how much raw potential you see in a kid, he said.

"Torey Hunter, Marcus Trufant, Will Derting, Erik Coleman, Raonall Smith, James Darling and so many others ... they weren't rated golden nuggets, but in our evaluations they were blue chippers," Price said. "Derting and Darling weren't being recruited by anybody. Bill Doba picked them out in summer camps."

Price said three other factors helped construct his successes at WSU: grayshirting, utilizing the Prop 48 rule, and holding youth summer camps around the state.

"I think we invented the term grayshirt," Price said. "Raonall (Smith) came to our camp before his senior year of high school and broke his arm and missed the season. We liked him and said we'll give you a scholarship if you delay enrollment. Bill (Doba) was real influential is making this happen.

"With the Prop 48 kids, we'd take two or three a year and it worked because our academic support was strong. We knew they could be successful."

Among Price's Proposition 48 success stories were Bender, Boose, Chad Eaton, Brandon Moore, Deron Pointer and Nian Taylor.

As for the youth camps, they were so successful in giving the Cougars a foothold in Western Washington that Husky coach Don James petitioned the Pac-10 to implement a rule that no school could hold camps outside their campus. As a result, the Pac-12 is one of the only major conferences prohibiting off-campus clinics and camps.

This year, for the first time in four decades, Price isn't on the recruiting trail. He retired in November.

In a wide-ranging conversation about recruiting, here's what else he had to say ...


For the complete recruiting class list, CLICK HERE.

And for a look at the prospects who could join them in the class, CLICK HERE.
ON MIKE LEACH'S RECRUITING EFFORTS IN TEXAS: "I think with Mike and his staff it's about the ties to the area. Texas isn't necessarily a spot you'd go to recruit from Washington State unless you have connections, because you'd just be getting the seconds. Mike knows the territory. It helps to know people – those coaches can assist you in your evaluations. And it's also helpful to know the personalities of those coaches – one may say he has 10 prospects when he really only has one, and another may say he only has one when he actually has more."

ON THE TALENT IN TEXAS: "I think you're going to get a more polished player from Texas than other regions because of the early development and the resources put into coaching and facilities. But you have to measure the polish, because you might get a guy who has maxed out his potential whereas in other areas you might find a guy who doesn't look as good but has unlimited potential. That's more of what we did at Washington State – find guys with potential and then coach them up."

ON THE BIGGEST PROSPECTS HE LOST AT THE END OF THE RECRUITING PROCESS: "Oh man, we worked really, really hard, with Mike Levenseller being instrumental, on Troy Polamalu. He was a small-town kid in Oregon, a real family-oriented kid, who we discovered at our camp. We thought we had him, and then his uncle (former USC player and now USC offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu) got USC after him late ... Jake Plummer was another one we lost late. I needed to do a better job -- Mark Rypien, Drew Bledsoe and Jack Thompson were seen as the prototypes of what a Washington State quarterback looks like and Jake was a scrambler. I should have done more, made tapes of our play-action and things like that, to convince him how we'd take advantage of his skills. We also had a problem on his official visit. The airline lost his luggage and all he was wearing was a t-shirt and hat … Teddy Bruschi was one, too. We were in on him first. He was undersized so a lot of schools shied away initially. His official visit didn't go well – he didn't like it. I think bad weather had something to do with it."

CHAD CARPENTER, nearly a Wildcat, scores at USC in 1995.

ON ADVANTAGES OF RECRUITING TO PULLMAN: "It's so unique, you can use that to your advantage -- the college-town environment, the student involvement. We had crappy facilities, nothing like what they have now, but we had the uniqueness of our location. It's so special to be part of. In recruiting, we looked not just at talent, but how well we thought a player would fit into the small-town environment. You want guys who will stay four or five years and enjoy it. I could drive up to a guy's house and get a sense right away if he'd fit. With Chad Eaton, there was a pickup truck in the driveway, and I knew we had a good chance. On the other side, you'd go up to some houses in Bellevue and Mercer Island and find two BMWs in the driveway and you knew the chances weren't good … Chad Carpenter (WSU receiver 1993-96) is a good example of getting kids who fit. He told me he was going to Arizona and not to come by the house because his mind was made up. I said ‘you're not going to Arizona -- you belong at Washington State. You're one of us.' He was from Wesier, Idaho. His parents were teachers. He belonged at WSU."

ON THE CHALLENGES OF RECRUITING TO PULLMAN: There's the weather during recruiting season. It's cold, and transportation can be disrupted ... When you have to shovel a path to get onto the football field it can leave the wrong impression… You'd like to bring all your kids in for visits in the fall -- the weather's nice, the geography is beautiful, and you have all the game-day energy and enthusiasm. But it's hard to get guys here in the middle of their high school seasons. It's a real disadvantage. Look at the U of W. I bet some prospects attend four or five games a year and take in some practices – all unofficially – because they live so close by. In the two-county area around Pullman you have only 50,000 people; there aren't many players to choose from. At WSU, we spent more money on recruiting than Washington simply because it's expensive to get people to town."

ON CONSTRUCTING HIS TYPICAL CLASS AT WSU: "You start with a combination of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Alaska, British Columbia, and Calgary. You get around eight guys from Washington, two each from Alaska and Western Canada, and one each from the other places and you're two-thirds done. Then you head to down to California to fill it out. We didn't do too much in Oregon, the Ducks and Beavers had it pretty well locked up. And in Idaho at that time, Boise State wasn't a factor so we had success there."

DREW BLEDSOE guided the Cougs to a 9-3 record and No. 18 ranking in 1992.

ON HIS SINGLE-BEST JOB OF RECRUITING: "Drew Bledsoe -- probably helped the program the most. He was a breakthrough guy for us in recruiting ... His dad had played for the Huskies, and Stanford was having him meet with Nobel Peace Prize winners, so it was going to be tough ... This is a great story. I've got to tell you this story. You couldn't have a banquet for just one recruit on an official weekend, there had to be at least two. But we wanted all the focus on Drew. So we had (assistant coach) Bill Diedrick's son from Moscow High in for an official visit (chuckle). He was a good little player but not for the Pac-10 … We set up a room at the CUB overlooking the stadium. It was all about Drew ... peg boards with his pictures and records, peg boards with pictures of Jack Thompson and Mark Rypien. We gave his dad an honorary membership in the Cougar Club. And then we turned on a video we had put together -- highlights of Drew's high school career that faded in and out with highlights of Jack and Rypien. I don't think any schools were doing this kind of thing at the time. The theme music behind it was ‘You're My Inspiration" by Chicago. At the end, we superimposed the logo from his grandpa's farm with the Cougar-head logo. It was very touching, very inspirational. Mrs. Bledsoe was in tears. And just as the video ended, the room filled on all sides with sorority girls singing the Cougar fight song … When the visit was over, we drove them back to Walla Walla in a van and, wouldn't you know it, the van took a round-about way out of town. It went down Colorado and by the Lambda Chi house, and someone had told all the kids in the fraternities and sororities to be out on the street when the van came by. I think it was Kevin Sumlin and Chris Ball, graduate assistants, who had been rounding everybody up. So as the van drives through Greek Row all these kids are chanting ‘We want Drew' and ‘We need you' and slapping the sides of the van ... It was a fantastic visit!"

Dec. 7, 2002: After clinching a Rose Bowl berth with a win over UCLA, Mike Price gets a congratulatory hug from Calvin Armstrong. The victory was Price's 83rd, and last, at Washington State.

Coach Price is planning to be back in Cougar Country on April 15 to kickoff off WSU's "Spokane Week" festivities that lead up to the Crimson & Gray Game. He is penned in as the guest speaker for the "Great Games in Cougar History" event set for the Northern Quest Casino. The 1997 Apple Cup game will be replayed and Price, along with several former players from that team, will be on hand to talk with the faithful.

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