With Raonall Smith, James Price, Alex Ngaue and Serign Marong all one game away from suiting up in crimson for the final time, look for Price to go after some junior college talent to shore up what figures to be one of WSU's few weaknesses in 2002: linebacking.
On the current three-deep roster, only three true linebackers return next season: Al Genatone, Pat Bennett and walk on Mike Isaccson. Ira Davis and Derrick Dillon are also in the fold, but both are really DBs who, in the ideal world, will be playing deep again in '02. Moreover, Aaron Wagner isn't due back from his Mormon mission until '03, and it's hard to tell how young Will Derting's knee will shape up come August.
One JC prospect whom the Cougars are very high on is Kevin Sperry of Los Angeles Harbor CC. He's 6-1, 210 and runs the 40 in 4.6 seconds. Even more attractive, he's way ahead academically so will have four years to play three Division I-A seasons. He runs sideline-to-sideline very well and hits hard. He set a school record with 17 tackles in one game this season. Word down California way is that Sperry will become either a Cougar or Trojan when all is said and done.
AnotherJC 'backer whom the Cougars like is Gary Torre of San Mateo JC. He stands 6-1, 230 and already has been offered by the Cougars.
Also keep an eye on JC backer Darnell Tautofi of Dixie College in St. George, Utah. He's 6-3, 250 and runs the 40 in 4.76.
Perhaps the top JC linebacking prospect in the West is Lance Mitchell of San Francisco CC. He signed with the Cougars out of Los Banos High two years ago but failed to qualify academically. He was at the Apple Cup last week and apparently enjoyed his time in Montlake with former SFCC teammates Kai Ellis and Taylor Barton. He is believed to be headed to UW, USC or Oklahoma, with Florida and Texas lurking.
Mitchell's LB batterymate at SFCC, Pasha Jackson (6-2, 235), is another top-flight prospect. The rumor mill has had him serious about every school in the nation at one time or another, including WSU. So hard telling exactly where he'll end up, but don't be surprised if it's a USC vs. Oklahoma battle at the end.
The Cougars recently fell out of the running with one of Mitchell and Jackson's SFCC teammates, safety Gabril Wilson. He, too, was in Seattle for the Apple Cup, and recently pared WSU, Oregon State and Arizona off his list. That leaves USC, Tennessee, Florida, UW, Oregon and Kansas State in running.
AND SPEAKING OF prospects at the Apple Cup, another was Cody Boyd, the TE/DE prep standout from Ferndale who recently installed the Cougars as slight favorites over Oregon. At the Cup, however, he told the Seattle Times he felt somewhat obliged to root for the Dawgs since he was there as their guest.
Another prepster who recently put the Cougs at the top of his list, Inglewood TE/DE Marlon Brisco (6-4, 225), is now believed to be leaning toward Oregon. He "loved" his trip to Pullman two weeks ago, but told national recruiting analyst Bobby Burton that his visit to Eugene this past weekend was outstanding. He had 20 sacks this season. He's expected to visit Arizona early in December and then make a decision shortly thereafter.
One prep defender who looks to be solidly in the crimson camp is El Camino safety Reggie Grigsby (6-0, 185, 4.3). He set to trip to Arizona State on December 7 and possibly Colorado sometime later. He was in Pullman for the OSU game and was thought to be very close to committing verbally.
And speaking of verbal commitments, two of WSU's early gets for the 2002 recruiting class will be battling this weekend in Tacoma in the state of Washington's Class 4A semifinals: Kentwood's Carl Bonnell and Bethel's Steve Dildine. Another kid in the tussle who is thought to be getting a strong look from the Cougars is Kentwood RB/DB Kevin Jones.
Bonnell, a quarterback, had guided Kentwood to an 11-1 record while Dildine, a running back/safety who runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds, has led Bethel to a perfect 12-0 mark. In the quarter-finals against South Kitsap last weekend, Dildine rushed for 217 yards and three TDs, pushing his season totals to 2,00 yards and a state record 43 touchdowns. He is only the 27th player in state history to have rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a season -- a club Jones could be joining this weekend. Dildine also tossed a 3-yard pass for a score last week. More remarkable, this is his first year playing football.
Bonnell, a dual-threat QB, has been wowing opponents all season his savvy decision-making. He only throws the ball a dozen times a game but rarely is errant. On the ground, he's quick as can be. Last week he turned a broken play into a 61-yard TD run. Later in the game, Bonnell scrambled away from pressure and connected with a receiver for a 70-yard TD pass.
Another of WSU's early verbals for 2002, RB/DB Wes Rainwater (5-11, 180) of Kentridge High also produced some fireworks this playoff season. In a first-round game he scored two touchdowns before the game was 6 minutes old -- one via a 22-yard run and another on a 71-yard punt return. He was one of the top DBs at Price's football camp in Pullman last summer.
* To the best of our knowledge, the Cougars have so far secured eight verbal commitments for the 2002 recruiting class: Bonnell, Dildine, Rainwater, Spokane WR/DB Don Turner, LB Brian Hall of Walla Walla, DE/TE Adam Braidwood of British Columbia, LB Matt Mullennix of Spangle and LB/DE DeMar Baisy of Seattle.
* The sweepstakes for James Finley, the much-touted 6-3, 190-pound prep receiver from Los Angeles continues. Trips he had planned for Pullman and Corvallis early in the month were rescheduled to accommodate his work on the SATs. His OSU visit went well and he considers them his leader. He'll visit Oregon this weekend, WSU on Dec. 7 and Oklahoma Dec. 14.