"The first phase is understanding how you fit. The second is getting the system down. The third is piecing together the defense with the offense. The final phase is mastery, real mastery,” says Roth. ”Putting it all together for maximum efficiency — surgical precision."
“I can’t wait to see how Luke performs this season,” he said. “He clearly has the moxie, though losing his two best playmakers (Gabe Marks and River Cracraft) is not easy.”
Rising juniors Tavares Martin and Kyle Sweet are Cougar wideouts Roth expects big things from in 2017, and he believes January enrollee Easop Winston out of San Francisco CC and incoming freshman Jamire Calvin have the potential to provide instant impact on the flanks.
Winston caught 133 passes for more than 2,000 yards for powerhouse SFCC over the last two seasons. Calvin, a member of Scout.com's national top 300, caught 86 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns at Cathedral High in Los Angeles this past fall.
Roth quips that Falk is the Cougars’ biggest recruit of 2017, given the QB’s decision to come back for his final year of eligibility rather than go into the NFL draft. Had Falk and the Cougars flourished, rather than faltered, down the stretch of the 2016 season he thinks Falk would have left early to join this year's draft class, which isn't as deep at QB as next year's class figures to be.
"I think this is a team that clearly feels they left some things on the table," he added. "They were so close to a title game. I'm excited to see how they compete to get back."
Falk’s final year in crimson, says Roth, also gives rise to another interesting storyline: lining up a replacement for him in 2018.
Tyler Hilinksi, Falk’s understudy last season, would be the leading contender, but there’s also Anthony Gordon, who redshirted last season after throwing for 3,864 yards and 37 TDs at San Francisco CC in 2015, and incoming 4-star freshman Connor Neville, as well as returning walk on Trey Tinsley and incoming walk ons Casey Brink and John Bledsoe.
The development of the 6-3, 206-pound Hilinksi—one of Roth’s old Elite 11 pupils—is a key subplot for the Cougars in 2017, Roth says.
“He’s an awesome young man and he clearly has the arm talent — he can spin the ball,” said Roth. “This is a tough conference, though. He’s got to hit the weights, plus it can be physically taxing for a quarterback to play in this offense because of all the throwing … I’m really looking forward to seeing him in practice.”
As for the Cougars’ broader outlook in 2017, you can find Roth’s thoughts in this 93-second video. Hint: he really likes the five-game home stand to start the season and the 20 returning starters.
ROTH SAID HE'S IMPRESSED WITH the speed, length and athleticism of the Cougars' new recruiting class. Seven members, he said, are especially striking in his eyes:
- WRs Winston and Calvin
- OLs Dontae Powell (awaiting academic clearance before he can sign) and Robert Valencia
- DB Sean Harper
- DE Will Rodgers, and
- OLB Dominick Silvels
Valencia, a transfer from San Francisco CC who already is on campus, ranks among the top three or four offensive line recruits in the Pac-12, says Roth. He also notes that cornerback Isaiah Love —who also enrolled at WSU in January and will partake in spring ball — may be something of a project to start but possesses a huge upside. Love, who is from West Covina, Calif., "grayshirted" in 2016 after missing all of his 2015 prep season with an injury.