Mastro's recruiting arc continues at WSU

THERE ARE FOUR OFFENSIVE STARTERS on the WSU roster, all either first- or second-year Cougs, who came from the same geographical area and who were lightly recruited by other schools -- or not recruited at all. That got us thinking. And that led to a whole bunch of research. Which in turn led us to Washington State running backs coach Jim Mastro.

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Wide receivers Gabe Marks, Brett Bartolone and River Cracraft , and running back Teondray Caldwell – three sophomores and one true-freshman, all started from the get-go at Washington State. All are from that same general area, Orange County north to Los Angeles. Now toss in standout true freshman offensive lineman Riley Sorenson plus high-ceiling newcomers Robert Lewis and Jamal Morrow, who also hail from that locale, and a trend line comes into clear view. And that begs the question: Who's recruiting these guys for WSU?

Mastro's territories shifted more towards the Bay Area for the 2014 class but in Leach's first two classes, it was Orange County north to LA. But Washington State also employs a group-recruiting effort, recruiting coordinator and chief of staff Dave Emerick has told CF.C. Territories are naturally crafted around an assistant's longtime ties and relationships, but a position coach will also be deeply involved, as will other coaches at times. And of course, Mike Leach plays a key role.

SO CF.C BROKE OUT the Red Bull and started researching. Mastro spent 11 seasons at Nevada as running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. There are 15 former Nevada players in the NFL right now. For perspective, consider that the Nevada total equals the NFL contingent from Washington State and Arizona combined. And while other Nevada coaches certainly played a role in those 15, Mastro was deeply involved with their evaluations. Perhaps the greatest testament to his scouting abilities were the Nevada running backs in that time frame. They produced 1,000 yard rushers on a routine basis and most if not all of them were afterthoughts on the recruiting radar of most schools.

Now let's come back to Washington State recruiting. Mastro was adamant in his conversation with CF.C he doesn't consider himself a recruiting guru. He emphasized repeatedly that it's Leach and the WSU staff as a whole who are responsible – for both the Cougs listed above and any and all early WSU recruiting success enjoyed since Leach came on board in December of 2011.

More recruiting Q&A with Mastro
What are the differences between recruiting to the Pac-12 vs. the WAC?
Mastro: They're the same thing really - the only difference is here at Washington State we have more resources available to us, we can reach out and touch more people. But you still have to find ‘em. Everyone can find the 5-stars, you've got to find the hidden guys, the diamonds in the rough.

You're recruiting to a different system in the Air Raid than you were at Nevada. Has that changed what you look for in recruits?
Mastro: Yes, I'm looking for a different type of running back now but I still have to find that kid who fits the mold, who fits into what we do and is a good character kid. It's still the same process.

You've been at WSU two years so Coug players are exempt from this since they haven't finished their careers yet -- Who do you consider your greatest recruit, and your greatest hidden gem?
Mastro: Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua. People don't realize those guys broke the Pony Express record of Eric Dickerson and Craig James in a career – and those kids were recruited by nobody. (8,285 combined rushing yards)

The Cougs under Leach are both a) offering and signing guys few teams have offered and b) winning more recruiting battles, as with Marks and others. But looking closely at those diamond-in-the-rough players, they're starting to turn out to be really good Pac-12 players too. So it's not just recruiting, Leach's staff is doing some great scouting – showing a real eye for talent.

So what's the secret here? We asked Mastro.

"You have to be able to trust your evaluation process, you can't be influenced by perception. We don't care if he's a 5-star on Signing Day, we want him to be a 5-star on Saturdays. You can't waver, and that's where this WSU staff does such a great job. And character, that's like the 1A. Video is great, but his character has to be great also," said Mastro.

Staying true to the evaluation process, Mastro says, cannot be overemphasized.

"I don't care if other schools are recruiting a guy or not," said Mastro, his voice rising. "I don't care if ‘they' (scouting services/media) say a kid is a 5-star or a 2-star. We don't care! We trust our recruiting process here."

It's clear Mastro has conviction and confidence in what he does and how he does it when it comes to recruiting.

"All of the guys here, they're the same way – Ken (for example) is the same way," said Mastro.

That would be first-year WSU linebackers coach Ken Wilson, who was with Mastro at Nevada.

"One of the reasons I pushed so hard to get Ken here is that he's one of the best evaluators of talent I've ever been around. And he's a great coach on top of it. It's hard work and it's a process…and he's phenomenal at it. This whole Washington State staff is like that," said Mastro.

Speaking of Taua and as CF.C reported over on the Luxury Suites, his younger brother is <Ainuu Taua, who is tripping to the Palouse this weekend on an official visit. Unlike his older brother, Ainuu Taua is a far more well-known recruit. He is ranked the No. 9 overall DT prospect in the nation in the 2014 class and four stars.

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