WILLIE TAYLOR (Taylor photo)

WSU coach Mike Leach fires up the pith while breaking down film of these 7 new Cougars

BLECKLEY COUNTY, in central Georgia, is so remote that even in the football-crazed south, top talent can be overlooked. Mike Leach dubs it “a long ways from anywhere.” But he’s not complaining.

Late in the just-concluded recruiting cycle, Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch spotted a gem in Bleckley’s population of 13,063. And with an assist from Cougar outside linebackers coach Roy Manning, he landed a prospect so far off the radar that the kid didn't enter the Scout.com database until after he verbally committed to WSU —  just seven days before letters of intent were signed

But Willie Taylor is hidden no more. The 6-3, 210-pound all-region safety and starting receiver from Cochran, in Bleckley County will play linebacker for the Cougars this fall.

“He is one of the most underrated guys in America,” Leach enthused in front of the crimson faithful at “A Night with Cougar Football” last week in Bellevue.

“Watch how physical he is,” Leach said as he rolled highlights. “Look at him chase down the running back … He hits stuff and it just explodes.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-XH09993zk

Taylor (pictured above) was one of seven members of the Cougars’ 2017 recruiting class that Leach broke down on film for fans gathered at the Hyatt Regency. He would have shown more, but the proceedings were running long so the clips were clipped.

But what a show Taylor and the other six put on, with Leach serving as color commentator.

ROBERT VALENCIA’s work on the football field would be considered criminal in international waters. “He’s blocking three guys on one play here — look at the body count .., he even takes out one of his own guys with friendly fire,” said Leach. “It’s like he’s clubbing baby seals—you know they outlawed that.”

Valencia, a 6-6, 290-pound offensive lineman from San Francisco City College, enrolled at WSU in January and will be firmly in the mix for a starting job when the Cougars open spring practices on March 23. Leach told CFC earlier in the evening that Valencia has “no deficits” that he can see. Valencia is  big, moves his feet and is athletic, Leach said, adding that spring ball will reveal how polished he is at the craft of blocking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cb6_JzxxS4A

CALEB PERRY, a 5-9, 180-pound running back out of King’s High in Seattle, “is one of the fastest guys in the country, right now,” Leach noted. “Look at all the guys with a head start,” he said during his film break down as Perry ran past a host of air-grabbing tacklers. Perry, who earned all-league honors at both running back and linebacker, is the reigning 1A state champion in the 100 meters with a time of 10.76.

WILL RODGERS, a 6-5, 230-pound defensive end from Saginaw, Mich., is a “tall, big guy and what’s impressive about him is his lower-body strength,” said Leach. Rodgers drew a series of rewinds as Leach pointed out one play in which the league defensive player of the year “crushes the tackle, the running back and the quarterback.” To emphasize, that was all on one play. Rodgers posted 15 1/2 TFLs last season and he didn't even play in five games.

In a conversation with CF.C before Leach’s presentation, Manning characterized Rogers as “dynamic” and said he flew under the recruiting radar a bit because he missed those five games following a school transfer. Manning said Rogers and safety Josh Talbott (see below) are the “big-time steals” of the Cougars’ 2017 class.

JOSH TALBOTT, a 6-0, 180-pound safety, doesn’t believe scoring is just for the offense. “This guy thinks he should score on defense, too,” Leach gushed about Talbott, the ballhawking heavy hitter out of California powerhouse Long Beach Poly. Talbott was rated one of the top 50 safety prospects in the nation by both Scout.com and ESPN.com and attracted offers stretching from UCLA to Florida. Manning told CFC earlier in the evening that he believed Talbott was one of the top two safeties prospects in the L.A. Basin.

ABE LUCAS, the athletic, all-class All-State offensive lineman from Everett’s Archbishop Murphy High, did such fine work that Leach kept rewinding the film. “Watch him just club this guy,” the coach said. Lucas is 6-7, 260 pounds, but Leach thinks he has the physique to get up to 340 (no, that is not a typo).

JAMIRE CALVIN, the highest-rated member of WSU’s 2017 class, “makes everybody miss,” said Leach, pointing out the USA Today All-California receiver’s ability to accelerate and change direction. The 5-10, 160-pound Calvin caught 86 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 TDs last season and also returned punts — including an entertaining dash to pay dirt that Leach showed on the big screen (and can be seen here...). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nngKaXpwIkI

Leach also noted that Calvin’s school, Cathedral High in Los Angeles, is one of the most uniquely located high schools in the nation. Dodger Stadium is just up the hill, the downtown skyline is off in the distance below a bluff, and the football field is built on top what was once an “18-After-the-Civil-War-Something” cemetery.

That last fact, in turn, explains two other things that Leach finds intriguing: tombstones are embedded in the wall around the stadium and the school mascot — “not just another Bulldogs or Tigers” — is the Phantoms.

On game nights, when the smoke is turned on and moisture from the city below rises up to create mist in the air, “you know all hell is about to break loose — and a portion of it has to do with Jamire Clavin,” Leach quipped.

RELATED STORY: Cougs will be elevated at every position in 2017, says Leach

Michigan Varsity Top Stories