Manning said he’s seen a spike in excitement for Cougar football in his recruiting area (Los Angeles) over the past 4-5 weeks. And there’s been an increase on top of that with Washington State taking on UCLA Saturday in a 7:45 p.m. game in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.
“We have some very exciting players committed to come to play football at Washington State,” Manning said. “Our philosophy is that we want the best athletes available and that’s who we’ve been going after.
“The excitement level out there is way up. Kids are reaching out to us – I can’t even clean out my email in box. I’m getting so many messages. ‘Hey, nice win!’ and ‘Go Cougs!’ But we’re also getting, ‘Hey, have you seen this guy!’ and ‘You guys need to check this guy out!’ And that’s from kids (already committed elsewhere!)”
MANNING TOLD THE crowd he’s excited about the future of the Cougar linebacking corps – especially at Rush, the position he coaches along with the nickels. Both co-starters at Rush, Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan (as well as WIL Jeremiah Allison) graduate after this season.
Manning said he’s encouraged the three senior ‘backers each to enjoy ever second of the remaining games, but he also sees a cupboard full of quality athletes ready to step into their shoes when the time comes (presumably a group that includes Logan Tago, Dylan Hanser and Nnamdi Oguayo if recent Thursday Night Football sessions are any indication).
Manning can’t talk about unsigned recruits but it would seem a good bet future Cougars Derek Moore and Mason Vinyard could also have him jacked up in looking at 2016 and beyond.
He’s also especially proud of fourth-year junior nickel Parker Henry.
“This guy is a former walk-on,” Manning said. “I remember him sitting in meetings back in the spring talking about each player’s gifts and how they have to be willing to give every ounce of that gift to this team.
“I would say that he’s been the MVP of this team, but it’s hard to go against Luke Falk because he’s playing as well as anyone in the Pac-12 Conference right now. Parker is definitely the MVP of the Defense.”
MANNING SAID HE felt the Cougs started the Arizona State games tentatively, waiting to see what the Sun Devils would bring to the game rather than dictate to ASU. But he also pointed to the exact moment the Cougars turned things around during his highlight presentation.
With Arizona State knocking on the door of a 21-0 lead the Sun Devils made an unusual shift, moving three players from the right side to the left. Three Cougar defenders made a corresponding adjustment.
“That’s not something we’ve coached them to do,” Manning said. “They saw what (Arizona State) were doing and adjusted.”
WSU IS FOCUSED on what they need to be focused on headed into Saturday, said Manning.
“It’s not about what UCLA is going to do that we have to worry about,” he said. “We’ve been stressing all year that we only have to worry about what we do. If we go out and do our job the way we know how to do it, there isn’t a team in the country who can stop us.
“I think we’re at a place where we can legitimately say that we’re getting better as a football team every single week. And we still have three more weeks to keep getting better.”
The Cougars are in an enviable spot. They’re heading into the Rose Bowl Saturday as an underdog, but no one is laughing at the suggestion that WSU could run the table against UCLA, Colorado and Washington.
“This group isn’t satisfied with six wins,” Manning said. “They lost three games, but they also know just how close they came to winning those three games and being a 9-0 team right now.”
MANNING SAID HE learned early on the breadth and scope of Cougar Nation after being hired by Mike Leach.
The first-year Washington State outside linebackers coach was making a recruiting trip to the greater Los Angeles area, stepping out near Venice Beach and wearing a coaching shirt with the WSU logo emblazoned on the front.
“This woman came running up to me all excited!” Manning said. “She said ‘You’re from Washington State!’ and she told me how much she loved her time in Pullman and loved the Cougars.”
It was a cool encounter, Manning said, even for a former Michigan Wolverine who looks as if he could still start at linebacker.
“Hey, coach!” a luncheoner yelled. “If one of US stepped out on Venice Beach wearing a shirt like that, she wouldn’t have come running up to us!”