When one's thoughts turn to Tana Pritchard

A TIME LIKE this is when one's thoughts turn to ... Tana Pritchard. The former WSU linebacker who opted to skip his final year of football eligibility in order to play a season-and-a-half of college basketball, came to mind last week with the news that 1) starting punter Jordan Dascalo isn't returning this season either, and 2) there's no logical successor to Dascalo on the roster. Why Pritchard?

Because in a career at Clover Park High in Lakewood, Wash., that was so impressive in so many sports at so many positions, Pritchard's roll call of honors included this one: all-classifications All-State punter.

Not to say he would be the second coming of Kyle Basler or Reid Forrest, but in a pinch -- which the Cougs seem to be in right now at punter -- that would be one heck of a guy to have lining up 15 yards back. Veteran, athletic and fearless.

His absence, though, isn't about punting or any concern that the Cougs won't find someone they like before Portland State comes to town the first week of September.

It's about the breathtaking attrition that occurred in WSU's 2011 recruiting class. Pritchard was one of 21 prep kids (walk on Moritz Christ is incorrectly listed) in that class and his off-season transfer, which came three weeks after fellow linebacker and classmate Darryl Monroe's, put a thundering exclamation mark on just how badly Paul Wulff's final recruiting class disintegrated.

Of those 21 prep signees, just two remain on the roster today as rising fifth-year seniors. They are Dom Williams and Darryl Paulo. Two others -- Isiah Myers and Marcus Mason -- completed their eligibility this past season because they played as true freshmen.

In other words, 19 percent of the 2011 frosh class made it all the way.

That math isn't pretty.

The other 17 scholarship freshmen from 2011 either eventually transferred, never arrived on campus or left early. And the results from the JC portion of the class, numbering seven, was just as underwhelming. If it weren't for two extraordinary walk ons who joined that class -- Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund -- you'd have to rank 2011 as a talent meltdown rivaling the worst of the Doba years.

So far this spring I don't think I've heard Mike Leach utter the phrase that has become synonymous with Cougar football over the last decade: "we're young." But the Cougars certainly aren't old.

Forget the talent side of the equation and focus solely on the maturity and leadership that fifth-year seniors can bring to a program. It's immense. And this year, like so many in the last decade, there just aren't a ton of those guys around.

But back to Tana Pritchard for a minute.

We've always had a soft spot for him, and not just because he comes from a great family of Cougars. He's smart, hard working and a real stand-up guy. You may recall he was WSU's starting WIL at the beginning of last season before Jeremiah Allison passed him by on the depth chart and Pritchard's playing time fell off a cliff.

But true to form, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Pritchard landed on his feet -- as you might expect from a multi-dimensional athlete.

After earning his bachelor's degree from WSU in December, he enrolled at Southeastern University, an NAIA school in Florida, and made his debut for the Fire basketball team on Feb. 7. And get this: the coach of the opposing team that night was none other than Rollie Massimino -- the same Rollie Massimino who guided Villanova to the 1985 NCAA title in a titanic upset of Georgetown. Pritchard played 23 minutes that night, hitting 4 of 5 from the field, blocking 2 shots, grabbing 3 rebounds and snaring 2 steals.

Mind you now, he hadn't played serious hoops since high school.

For the season, he averaged 5.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game and shot 46 percent from the field. Imagine what he'll do for SEU next season when he has a full year to prepare.

How Pritchard, who plays forward, wound up at SEU is a tale that runs straight through Tacoma and Pullman. The Fire's star player is Andre Winston, who played against Pritchard in high school and spent one season at WSU under Ken Bone. Winston, a senior, was named second-team NAIA All-American this season after averaging 22.3 points a game.

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