One day after Cougfan.com broke the news that defensive end Pole had been sent home due to academic eligibility, Leach said Pole will start Saturday against Colorado State (11 a.m., ESPN).
"He just had to take care of an academic deal," Leach said.
Pole flew back to Pullman yesterday, resolved the academic issue preventing him from being eligible to play in the postseason, and caught a return flight to Albuquerque this morning, independent sources tell CF.C.
Pole started the first 10 games, played in all 12 and has 26 tackles this season. BUCK linebacker Kache Palacio has started in Pole's place the past two games.
"I thought he (Palacio) improved at the end of the season," Leach said.
The stat book would agree. Palacio in those final two games had a combined eight tackles, (four solo) a sack, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a QB hurry.
WSU's two practices in Albuquerque were closed to the media. A walk-through is set for Friday afternoon prior to a pep rally and "battle of the bands" between the WSU and Colorado State bands. Both head coaches, team captains and cheerleaders also are scheduled to appear.
Thursday's practice ran approximately two hours, with music or simulated crowd noise piped in over speakers part of the time.
"We practiced good," Leach said. "I think everyone is excited to play."
Leach reiterated that two of the greatest benefits from playing in a bowl game are the extra practices for young players and the impact on recruiting.
Leach, as was noted in a CF.C article earlier this week, said his staff's third recruiting class is shaping up as "better than either of the first two." Leach said the Cougars are still looking for more offensive and defensive linemen and cornerbacks in particular.
Leach said redshirting players who have impressed him include linebackers Ivan McLennan and Peyton Pelleur, defensive linemen Daniel Ekuale and Gerald Sterling, safety Darius Lemora, offensive linemen Cody O'Connell, Cole Madison and Sam Flor, wide receiver-kick returner Robert Lewis, running back Jamal Morrow and quarterbacks Luke Falk and Tyler Bruggman.
Former NFL and Notre Dame star Joe Theismann will be the featured speaker at Friday's bowl luncheon. WSU seniors Deone Bucannon and Elliott Bosch have been selected to speak at the pre-luncheon press conference.
None of the New Mexico Bowl participants are projected to go in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft by the internet draft gurus. However, NFLDraftScout.com rates Bucannon the No. 1 strong safety and Colorado State's Weston Richburg the No. 2 center available in the draft.
Interestingly, Washington State's Vince Mayle is pegged as the 10th-best fullback prospect among 30 rated players at that position. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Mayle, who was recently granted another year of eligibility by the NCAA, has been a wide receiver in college.
WSU's other 2014 draft prospects rated by NFLDraftScout.com are Andrew Furney (No. 9 kicker), Damante Horton (No. 36 cornerback) and John Fullington (No. 46 offensive guard).
WIL linebacker Justin Sagote has not drawn a draft rating, but Leach was highly complimentary of the senior's play, work ethic and heart.
"Sagote's a huge effort guy … I knew he was an overachiever," Leach said.
Leach said Sagote's intense play has inspired teammates to work harder. Sagote ranks second on the Cougars with 91 tackles – Bucannon leads the Pac-12 with 109 – and Sagote has led WSU three straight games with a career-high 13 tackles.
XX The Cougars announced they had sold 4,570 tickets as of late Thursday night.
Leach Bombshell: WSU's Pole back in bowl game
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