Seen & Heard

SURE, IT'S BEEN a troubling last month in Cougarville with academic woes knocking Curtis Holden, Russell Mizin and top-shelf running back recruit Dwayne Wright out of the 2001 grid picture. But a closer look at the crimson scene actually paints a portrait that's downright rosy.

How so?

For starters, there's the incoming class of freshmen recruits. Wright, the cream of the crop, is expected to still be enrolling at WSU this fall despite his most recent SAT failure and has six more opportunities before next season to secure a score good enough to put him in uniform.

Tai Tupai did basically the same thing a couple of years back.

Far removed from the death threats he's been receiving in San Diego, the fleet-footed Wright has no doubt he'll be able to buckle down and concentrate on passing the exam while in bucolic Pullman.

In addition to Wright, though, the incoming class has plenty of guys who are shaping up as big-time Pac-10 prospects. In fact, four of them earned MVP honors last month in all-state games: Reno kicker Graham Siderius, who fired two long TD passes in Nevada's East-West game; linebacker Will Derting of state champion Okanogan in the Washington Class 1A-B East-West contest; Forks linebacker Pat Bennett, who piled up 160 yards at running back to earn West Offensive MVP honors in the Class 2A all-star contest; and Yakima receiver Thomas Ostrander, who caught six passes for 46 yards and a TD to earn East Offensive MVP honors in the same game.

Bennett's all-star performance on offense, coupled with Wright's ineligibility, has me wondering if Cougar offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller might try to wrestle the lad away from Cougar defense coordinator Bill Doba when rookies report to Pullman on August 3.

"If they hand me the ball, I won't say no," the 6-1, 213-pound Bennett told the Yakima Herald-Republic last month when asked if he'd be interested in a tryout at running back. Of note is that Bennett wasn't supposed to be the big news at running back in the 2A game --- that role was presumed to belong to hot-shot Husky recruit Dan McCourtie of Othello, who netted one yard on 11 carries.

Bennett's head coach at Forks, Terry Jensen, thinks Bennett has what it takes to play back in the Pac-10. "He was the 2A player of the year," Jensen told the Herald-Republic. "And he showed (in the all-state game) why he was. He's the fourth-leading rusher in the history of the state. He was a four-year starter for us on both offense and defense and he was a 4.0 student."

WHERE'S BRAD PHILLEY
WHEN YOU NEED HIM?

With Wright now out for 2001, the pressure may be on for two of WSU's other touted incoming freshmen backs --- Jimmy Wilson of Phoenix and Roger Smith of Beverly Hills --- to step in. Wilson is only 17 years old and Price has said he'd like to give the kid time to bulk up, so Smith may be the more likely contender for 2001 PT.

Regardless, though, Wright's absence is a blow because Cougar depth and experience at RB is woefully thin. Senior David Minnich, who racked up nearly 800 yards a year ago, is the only proven commodity. Fifth-year senior Jeremy Thielbahr has solid potential but has only carried the ball a handful of times in three seasons and even then mostly in short-yardage goal-line situations. John Tippins is an untested second-year JC transfer and Alex Nguae is an athletic, but unproven, converted linebacker.

Tippins rushed for 1,360 yards and eight TDs in two season at Santa Monica JC, while Nguae picked up 871 yards and 11 TDs as a high school senior before playing linebacker full time at West Los Angeles JC.

THE 3A-4A UPDATE

In the Class 3A-4A all-state game in Kennewick, invited Cougar walk-on linebacker Ben Challman (6-2, 210) of Everett served as one of the captains for the West team. And speaking of walk ons, the Cougars will have another local product with a great pedigree coming out for the team this fall. It's 5-10, 175-pound Tyler Sellers of East Wenatchee. The all-state player reportedly turned down the advances of Harvard to walk on at Cougarville.

Another future Cougar, recruited linebacker Ben Woodard of Cheney, temporarily bid farewell to football after the Class 3A-4A all-state game. He's off to Nicaragua for two years on a Mormon mission. recruit Incoming Cougar DB Jeremy Bohannon of Richland had to skip the all-state game following a minor injury sustained in a car wreck. Word down Tri-City way is that the lad will be in fighting trim by the time he reports on Aug. 3.

MIKE PRICE'S DEFT HAND

Talk about classy. The way Mike Price revamped his coaching staff this off-season was a thing of beauty. After three straight losing seasons, some changes clearly needed to be made, if not for performance reasons than simply for the sake of injecting new blood and freshness into system. But unlike many of his brethren in the head coaching ranks, Mike made his changes the old fashioned way, promoting great talent from within his staff while ensuring that the outgoing guys landed on their feet.

With Levenseller promoted to OC and Kasey Dunn to assistant head coach, Price has put two very bright coaching minds in roles that will allow them to thrive. Meanwhile, John McDonnell and Jim Zeches --- a pair of stand-up guys who served Price loyally since 1989 --- were given plenty of time and support to continue their careers elsewhere with solid organizations; McDonnell as an OL coach at Stanford and Zeches as a regional scout for the 49ers.

Moreover, the people Price has replaced McDonnell and Zeches with are highly regarded in Division I circles --- OL coach Bob Connelly and brand new recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach Robin Pflugrad. In six season as recruiting coordinator at Arizona State, Pflugrad produced five nationally ranked recruiting classes for the Devils.

Price spared no words in talking about Plugrad's ability. "He is a proven recruiter in the Pac-10 and one of the best recruiters in major college football. The recruiting system and recruiting program that he has organized is the best I've ever seen. He will make a huge impact on our Cougar football program." Price also praised his understanding of the passing game, so look for one of Price's goals for 2001 --- greater use of the tight end --- to get a big-time push.

Pflugrad, Northern Arizona's offensive coordinator since January, was part of Bruce Snyder's staff that was dismissed at the end of this past season. He was an All-American receiver at Portland State in 1979.

NOTABLE NOTES

Our friend Craig Hill at the Tacoma News Tribune opined recently that two former crimson recruits who opted for pro baseball over Cougar football --- receivers Forrest Lawson of Puyallup and Tim Lemon of Southern California --- may be thinking anew about the grid game. Both are struggling in Class A ball, Hill reports, with batting averages that are hovering near their respective weights.


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