Newest class of Cougars<br>near the top of the Pac

NOW THAT THE ink is dry on their 28 letters of intent, Washington State finds itself in an unusual place: High atop the final recruiting class rankings. High being a relative term, of course. But the Cougars, with a No. 21 ranking by <I></i>, are indeed traversing uncharted territory for a program typically labeled as "also-rans" this time of year by recruiting services.

More impressive still, especially in light of the successful recruiting season throughout the Pac-10, is their No. 3 conference ranking. Only Southern Cal (No. 1) and Oregon (No. 15) had a higher rated class than Wazzu. Washington (No. 22), Arizona State (No. 23), and UCLA (No.24) also finished in the Top 25.

"I think this class is going to rank right up there with the best classes WSU has ever had," recruiting analyst Chris Fetters told CF.C. "Simply because of the way they were able to steal a couple of bona-fide blue chippers in Randy Estes and Michael Bumpus. Those two guys alone would help make WSU's class solid."

Former recruiting analyst Jack Evans made no bones about where he'd place this 2004 WSU recruiting class historically.

"Without question, potential-wise this is the best the Cougs have ever done," Evans said. "This is as close to a perfect recruiting class as I've ever seen on the Palouse, certainly in the five years I was covering it."

Both Fetters and Evans, along with national recruiting analyst Jamie Newberg, see Estes as the biggest jewel—with Bumpus a close second—in a class full of gems.

"Randy Estes could be the steal of the year in the region if he gets everything squared away off the field," Newberg said. "He is a potential five-star talent at the safety position and Washington State could be the perfect fit for him."

Estes was No. 1 rated safety prospect in the nation before legal problems ended his high school career at Los Alamitos (Calif.). It has been indicated that criminal charges against him will be dropped, however.

"Like I've said, having serious interest in Randy was a no-lose proposition for the Cougars," Fetters said. "Hopefully he'll get a second chance to turn things around, on and off the field."

And should the safety resolve those legal issues and qualify academically, Fetters thinks his impact on the program—and defenders—will be felt sooner then later.

"He may be a hard one to keep off the field because of Erik Coleman and Virgil Williams graduating," Fetters said.

Evans was most pleased with the number and quality of linebackers who signed with WSU on Wednesday: Steffan Blume, Alex Hamill, Jed Collins, and Tyson Kirksey, as well as an excellent athlete (Bryan Baird) who could wind up at a LB spot. With a defensive mastermind at head coach (Bill Doba) and one of the brightest young defensive coordinators in the country (Robb Akey), Evans sees WSU's reputation as an offensive dynamo now lean more toward a reputation as a defensive juggernaut. And, he says, it all starts with the ‘backers.

"I think the linebacking corps is the heart and soul of Cougar football," Evans said. "One of the first articles we published (in 1998) on CF.C was entitled ‘Linebacker U,' and that's as true in Pullman now as it was then. I really see that rich tradition continuing with the talented players we picked up."

Fetters and Evans also shared their opinions on a few players who they feel—though not entering the program with the fanfare of an Estes or a Bumpus—may have a huge impact on Cougar football in the near future.

"I think the sleeper is Jason Roberts," Fetters commented. "Very lightly recruited, he'll be the next D.D. Acholonu, but bigger."

The defensive line and receiving corps is where Evans finds his sleepers, in 6-7, 260 pound DE Colin Donovan, but expects great things from all of the defensive line signees.

"If Donovan was from California instead of Montana, he'd have been a household name on the recruiting circuit," Evans opined. "And if Mike Graise goes gray and bulks up a bit, he—along with Matt Eichelberger and Lawrence Ball—could be making hay as a unit a few years from now."

"And I've heard good things about both Charles Dillon and Benny Ward," he said. "The signing of Bumpus overshadowed two receivers with a lot of potential. And don't leave Jacob McKinney out of the equation, although no one can tell me what position for sure he'll play, he's a heckuva athlete."

Another new Coug who, like Baird and McKinney, is listed with the ambiguous title of "athlete" is Michael Willis, who could also see the field next season, likely as a safety.

Evans commented that while it would've been great for the Cougs to land Ohio back Delbert Ferguson, his signing with Cincinnati doesn't take the shine off this 2004 class.

"Losing Ferguson to the Bearcats could've really hurt," Evans said. "But it didn't thanks to the signing of J.T. Diederichs and Ian Bell. And don't forget Juco transfer Jerome Harrison—he'll be burning turf at Martin (Stadium) next fall."

He noted that Doba lamented not singing a high school cornerback, but other than that minor setback Evans feels this class is cause for celebration.

"What else do I like about this recruiting class?" Evans asked. "Well, we got two talented QBs in Cole Morgan and Gary Rogers, four JC's (Harrison, DE Letrell Myers, CB Tyron Brackenridge, and WR Greg Prator) that should contribute instantly, a local kicker with a nice leg (Loren Langley), and three absolute monsters on the o-line (Andy Roof, Dan Rowlands, and Eddie Vickers)."

"This class has it all."

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