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Cubs legend signed LOI with WSU in 1978 but decision to go with baseball turned out well for all

WITH THE CUBS in the World Series, a fun bit of Cougar trivia, largely lost to the passage of time, comes to the fore: Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg once-upon-a-time signed a letter of intent to play quarterback for Washington State. He was a Parade All-American coming out of Spokane’s North Central High in 1978 and the man who signed him, Jim Walden, says the MLB Hall of Famer could have been “a sensational college quarterback.” But there’s a catch.

Walden pulled off a rare double-whammy in that 1978 recruiting class: he also signed another of the state’s top prep QBs in Issaquah's Clete Casper (pictured above left).

“Ryne was an overall athlete, with good size and great speed. He could pass but running was what made him a helluva a quarterback, and we liked to mix in the option with passing,” Walden told CF.C this week.

“Clete could do everything but run. He had a stronger arm than Ryne and was better in the pocket.”

So the net result if Sandberg had come to WSU rather than sign with the Phillies after they drafted him in the 20th round?

“We probably wouldn’t have signed Ricky Turner (in 1980). He was the legs and Clete was the arm. Ricky probably would have ended up as a defensive back at Arizona State.

“We did pretty good without Ryne, though,” Walden notes.

Pretty well indeed. In 1981, Turner and Casper co-piloted WSU to its first bowl game in 50 years and came within an Apple Cup victory of going to the Rose Bowl. Two years later, Turner put the Cougs into overdrive midway through the campaign and they finished 7-4, with UW coach Don James proclaiming them the finest team in the Pac-10 at season’s end.

As for Sandberg, Walden said he knew it was 50-50 whether the three-sport standout would enroll at WSU.

“There was no cloak and dagger. Ryne and his dad were very up front that if he received a contract offer that approximated the dollar value of a college scholarship, he would go pro. That was OK by us,” said Walden.

SPEAKING OF THE CUBS AND COUGARS, Mike Leach’s dig yesterday at 'Cubbies' fans drew gasps from the office next door. Dave Emerick, senior associate athletic director and chief of staff for the WSU football program, is a Midwest native who has been a Cubs fan since he was old enough to walk. “I’m aghast,” Emerick joked when asked about his boss’s affront to all who hold Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo and Ryne Sandberg dear. “Cubs fans are diehard and devout.”

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