Newest recruits leave fans smilin'

ROBIN PFLUGRAD, WSU's football recruiting coordinator, may have missed his calling. Based on the enthusiastic reaction of a packed house of Cougar fans Friday night, he has a future in film-making. He put together an Oscar-worthy highlight reel of WSU's newest class of recruits.

Using a laser-pointer like a symphony conductor, Pflugrad had the 350 crimson faithful at the Pierce County Cougar Club's annual head coach's dinner ooing and awing over a kicker who split the uprights on a kickoff, a receiver darting and dashing like a jack-rabbit, and a lineman from Montana who looked like Goliath among Davids. And that was just the appetizer. Four stars of Pflugrad's film -- JV transfers Tyron Brackenridge (CB), Jerome Harrison (RB), Letrell Myers (DE) and Greg Prator (WR) -- all figure to contribute to the Cougars right away. And some of the prep pickups -- led by receiver Michael Bumpus and WR/DB Michael Willis -- may have a shot at playing time this season as well.

In fact, WSU defensive coordinator Robb Akey told CF.C before the dinner that the Cougars -- with just five experienced linebackers returning -- may look to one of the four incoming freshmen 'backers to play a role in 2004. They are Steffan Blume, Jed Collins, Alex Hamill and Tyson Kirksey. All are swift ball-hawks. And each of them "hits with his face," says Pflugrad, using a short-hand phrase that essentially means they have great tackling technique, hit hard and follow through until their prey is down.

Pflugrad also offered up some remarkable statistical perspective on the 2004 class. Of the 28 signees, 14 of them earned league, district or state player of the year honors in 2003. In addition, 21 of the 28 were team captains. Moreover, the group is composed of winners -- the collective won-loss record of their teams over the last two seasons is 408-89.

Other notable nuggets: This class started to take shape last May, with an initial list of 921 prospects. It was narrowed to 500 in August and eventually down to the 28. Ten of the signees camped at WSU last summer, including Ballard High running back J.T. Diederichs whose moves, balance and work ethic wowed the coaches.

A few in the group still need to wrap up academic requirements before enrolling, but Pflugrad says all are making headway. If everyone makes it in, then three members of the class will grayshirt in order to keep the class at the NCAA maximum of 25.

Here's Pflugrad's player-by-player run-down of the class of 2004:

Bryan Baird (6-3, 205) linebacker/safety/returner -- Racked up more than 2,000 all-purpose yards over his junior and senior seasons at Columbia River High. Also posted a collective 150 tackles in the two years. First-team AP All-State. "He hits with his face and drives through defenders. He's very athletic and could play a couple different positions."

Lawrence Ball (6-4, 245) defensive line -- "No positive yards for the opposition. He finishes plays." Recorded 56 tackles, including 11.5 sacks, en route to earning third-team California All-State recognition at Edison High in Fresno.

Ian Bell (5-10, 180) athlete -- "May be as athletic a kid as we've had in years. He could play cornerback, slot, running back. An electrifying player and an electrifying personality." On pace for 3,000 career rushing yards at Taft High in Woodland Hills, Calif., before injury slowed him in 2003.

Steffan Blume (6-2, 215) linebacker -- "Hits with his face, runs well." Two-time Greater Spokane League defensive player of the year, and unanimous 2003 All-State pick. Posted 19 tackles in one game. Also a standout on the Clarkston baseball team.

Tyron Brackenridge (5-11, 180) cornerback -- "Somebody we earmarked last spring. Very exciting player who hits with his face. He'll get lots of reps early." Rated the No. 41 overall JC prospect by SuperPrep magazine.

Michael Bumpus (6-0, 190) receiver -- Most of the footage of him wasn't at receiver, but quarterback. He switched positions in the third week of the season when Culver City High's regular signal caller went down with injury. A pair of darting and dashing long-distance runs to paydirt had the audience eating out of Pflugrad's hand. Related story posted March 6: How WSU Landed Superstar WR.

Jed Collins (6-2, 220) linebacker -- "Powerful and athletic." A three-year starter and two-time league defensive player of the year. Rated among the nation's top 60 prep linebackers by TheInsiders.com.

J.T. Diederichs (6-2, 215) running back -- "So impressive, a very exciting player. At our camp last summer he dominated every drill and worked as hard as he could. Great moves, great balance, he makes people miss." Added Mike Levenseller, "He's special and will have a chance to step in early." Piled up nearly 3,500 rushing yards over his junior and senior seasons at Ballard High. An all-classifications All-State pick by the Seattle Times who runs the 40 in 4.35 seconds.

Charles Dillon (6-0, 175) receiver -- "One of the first guys we offered last spring. He catches the ball at the highpoint." First-team all-league defensive back as a junior, and first-team pick at receiver as a senior when he hauled in 700 yards worth of receptions. Also a standout in basketball.

Colin Donovan (6-7, 260) defensive end -- From tiny Superior, Montana, the Cougars had an eye on him for two years courtesy of an old coaching friend of Pflugrad's who told him there was a special talent developing in the hinterlands outside Missoula. The nephew of former NFL All-Pro Pat Donovan, Colin's flim clips didn't disappoint -- he looked like Hercules among mere mortals. A two-time All-State pick on both sides of the ball and the Gatorade Montana Player of the Year.

Matt Eichelberger (6-5, 320) defensive tackle -- "Look at his quickness off the line -- he moves the center all the way back into the running back. And he weighs 320 pounds." A three-time all-league choice at Sehome High in Bellingham, and AP All-State pick on both sides of the ball in 2003. Also played fullback in short yardage situations. Excels in the discus and shotput as well.

Randy Estes (6-2, 205) safety -- "Physical, big, strong. There are no negatives here. Looks a lot like Lamont Thompson out there." Rated the No. 14 prep safety in the nation by TheInsiders.com. Was voted California's junior defensive player of the year in 2002 after posting 96 tackles and three interceptions.

Mike Graise (6-4, 225) defensive end -- "A lot like D.D. Acholonu. He's very athletic and very fast off the line." Posted 94 tackles, including 12 sacks, in 2003, en route to earning all-league and all-area honors at Inglewood High.

Alex Hamill (6-1, 200) linebacker -- "We offered early on and he was our first verbal commitment in the class. Has great vision, runs well. Reminds me of Steve Gleason -- an athletic player who makes plays." A two-time, two-way all-league choice who earned defensive player of the year honors in 2003 after registering 104 tackles, seven sacks and seven forced fumbles. As a tight end, he caught 38 balls for 503 yards and six TDs in 2003. Believed to be the earliest verbal commitment in WSU history, making his intentions known on May 3 of his junior year.

Jerome Harrison (5-11, 190) running back -- "He's a lot like Jonathon Smith, which is saying something. He uses his blockers well and splits defenders." Rushed for a collective 1,800 yards and 19 TDs over the last two seasons at Pasadena City College (Smith's alam mater as well). Rated the No. 3 JC running back prospect in the nation. As a prep senior in Kalamazoo, Mich., he rushed for 2,338 yards and 31 TDs.

Tyson Kirksey (6-0, 215) linebacker -- "Fast and strong. Plays with great emotion. Comes from a great program at Lufkin (Texas) High." One impressive film clip showed him chasing down a ball carrier from behind, stripping the ball, recovering it and then running it back 40 yards. Named district defensive player of the year. Over the last two seasons he compiled 225 tackles, including 32 behind the line of scrimmage.

Loren Langley (509, 175) kicker -- "He kicks without a tee and he can kick in bad weather." Bill Doba noted that there were a couple of West Coast prep kickers rated slightly higher than Langley, but they were from warm weather climes -- "we wanted Loren because we know he can handle wind and rain." Film footage of the Puyallup High product drew gasps from the audience when he split the uprights on a kickoff.

Jacob McKinney (6-3, 225) tight end/athlete -- "Good speed, good person, good athlete -- he also plays basketball." Two-way starter for Puyallup High at linebacker and tight end, he earned all-league honors on both sides of the ball in 2002 and 2003. Rated the No. 27 prep tight end prospect in the nation by TheInsiders.com.

Cole Morgan (6-3, 185) quarterback -- "Quick feet, mobile. Needs some refinement but a great athlete." Threw for 47 TDs and more than 3,300 yards in two years as a starter at Ballard High, where his position coach was Jack Thompson. Rated the No. 70 QB prospect nationally by TheInsiders.com. Has volunteered to grayshirt if needed.

Letrell Myers (6-3, 240) defensive end -- "You pick this kid up at the airport and just go 'Wow!' when you look at his physique. Mass plus acceleration equals force. He's very forceful. Sheds blockers well." Never missed a game in two seasons at Riverside JC, posting 126 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss in 2003.

Greg Prator (6-2, 185) receiver -- "With Devard Darling's departure, we needed another receiver and we're excited about this guy. Has great balance and refuses to be tackles or go about of bounds." Caught 87 balls for 1,654 yards and 19 TDs in two seasons at Chaffey JC.

Jason Roberts (6-4, 225) defensive end -- "He allows no positive yards." Made 27 sacks and 181 total tackles over his last two prep seasons at Frenso's Central High. A second-team All-State pick and Tacoma News Tribune Western 100 choice.

Gary Rogers (6-5, 220) quarterback -- "Big, strong, and has great knee bend which you always look for in a quarterback." Rated among the top 30 prep QB prospects in the nation, Pflugard said there's little doubt Rogers would have been among the top 10 had he chosen to market himself at various combines. Threw for 27 TDs and nearly 3,000 yards over his junior and senior seasons combined.

Andy Roof (6-4, 305) offensive lineman -- "May be the strongest high school recruit in the country. Very driven. He has a chance to be very special under the guidance of George Yarno." A two-time all-league pick and 2003 All-State choice. Rated No. 44 OL prospect in the nation. Was the first freshman to play varsity football in the Greater Spokane League since the conference was formed in the early 1970s. Brother and sister attend WSU.

Dan Rowlands (6-4, 270) offensive lineman -- "Extends his arms, does a great job with his feet." Was the top lineman for Los Alamitos, one of the nation's perennial prep powerhouses. Rated one of the top 60 OL prospects in the nation.

Eddie Vickers (6-3, 325) offensive lineman -- "He's really huge!" Pflugrad's statement was reinforced on the screen a moment later when Vickers administered a crushing pancake block on a defensive lineman. A three-year starter at Columbia River High (Vancouver) and two-time all-conference selection. Also a first-team All-State pick by AP. A Western 100 pick by the Tacoma News Tribune.

Benny Ward (6-3, 190) receiver -- "Has a tremendous upside. He's big and he's fast, with an extra gear." That extra gear was apparent on film, when Ward, from Van Nuys, Calif., ripped off a 96-yard kickoff return. Caught 27 passes for 642 yards and 10 TDs in 2003.

Michael Willis (6-3, 205) athlete -- "A tremendous athlete and neat kid. Naturally strong." In one film clip he caught a screen pass with eight defenders surrounding him. Speaking to his speed and strength, he turned the certain loss into a 13-yard gain. Pflugrad told CF.C that Willis reminds him a lot of Reggie Williams.


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