6 young reasons to smile about Cougar D

LAST SEASON’S underwhelming performance by the Washington State defense, coupled with the unexpected 2015 losses of experienced vets Xavier Cooper, Darryl Monroe and Daquawn Brown, may mask something very promising that’s underway within the WSU defense.

It’s this: Six bona fide head knockers in the front seven -- all from the 2014 recruiting class -- who will be second-year freshmen or, in one case, a true sophomore in the 2015 season.

They’re now a year into the program, which means weight training, nutrition and day-to-day expectations on the field and in the classroom are now old hat. And this season’s spring practice season, which gets underway Thursday, could be the springboard that turns them from promising youngsters into Saturday mainstays.

Together, they form two trios -- one of linebackers and one of linemen -- who give WSU a young nucleus in the front seven that may be unparalleled over the last decade of defensive woes. Here they are and why WSU fans ought to be excited about the future they may hold for the program:

DT NGALU TAPA (Sacramento)
Perhaps the most intriguing member of WSU’s 2014 recruiting class given his high ceiling and personal story of overcoming a poor decision to reclaim his life. An all-class California All-State pick by USA Today in 2013 season. Cooper's move to the NFL and Toni Pole's graduation opens up space in the trenches for Tapa in 2015.

DE HERCULES MATA’AFA (Kapolei, Hawaii)
He’s already got the name to turn heads, now he just needs to extend his sack-happy high school numbers to the college level. Came to WSU at 6-2, 225, so his spring check-in will be interesting to monitor because he’ll need more girth to stick up front. He had an excellent showing this past season redshirting on the scout team and in Thursday Night Football.

He checked in last August at 6-2, 254 and is no doubt bigger and stronger today. He was a sacking machine his senior year of high school and rated the No. 25 DE prospect in the West by Scout.com.

DE/LB CHANDLER LENIU (Lakewood, Calif.)
Where Leniu tips the scales this spring may determine whether he lines up this fall at middle linebacker, BUCK or end, but this much is certain: this 2013 Parade All-American honorable mention choice has the motor and athleticism to compete in the Pac-12.

There was no redshirt for Luvu (also pictured at the top of this story) in 2014, as he played in eight games for the Cougs as a true freshman. With Monroe, Tana Pritchard and Cyrus Coen all gone in 2015, he will have plenty of opportunity to make a claim for major playing time this spring.

LB GREG HOYD (Murrieta, Calif.)
Strong work ethic and excellent football IQ (he’s the son of a coach), Hoyd comes from a prep program where winning is in the DNA. He brings all that and more to the Cougars and, like Luvu, could find ample opportunity to make a mark at linebacker in 2015.

NOTABLE: Spring practices at WSU begin this Thursday and will run for 15 sessions, ending April 28. The annual Crimson and Gray Game in Spokane will be held April 25 at 2 p.m.

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