Prep skills players targeted

RECORD-SETTING prep running back <b>Steve Dildine</b> of Spanaway already is on WSU's verbal commitment list for 2002, and deep crimson inroads are being made with several top-flight JC ground gainers. But <b>Mike Price</b> and staff aren't stopping there. Another touted in-state prep back --- as well as a couple of swifties from down south --- are in the Cougar orbit as well as recruiting season heads into the stretch drive.

While Dildine has secured most of the headlines in the Puget Sound for his record 44 TDs and 2,265 rushing yards, Nate Robinson (5-foot-9, 178) of Rainier Beach High in Seattle put together a gang-buster season as well, earning Metro League offensive player of the year honors from the Seattle Times, as well as first-team all-league honors at defensive back.

Robinson rushed for more than 1,200 yards on the season, but used his athleticism and 4.37 speed in every conceivable way, scoring 28 TDs via a combination of rushing, catching, intercepting and kick returning. With that kind of performance, it's no surprise he's the son of former Husky running back Jacque Robinson and the nephew of former NFL multi-position standout Eric Metcalfe. Nate is also a standout in hoops.

Word in the Rainier Valley is that Robinson, who played in Oakland a year ago while living with his dad, has narrowed his list to WSU, USC, North Carolina, Arizona State, with Oregon State and Mississippi State lurking. His is believed to be headed to Troy this weekend for an official visit. Robinson's Rainier Beach teammate, linebacker DeMar Baisy, committed verbally to WSU last month.

TWO OTHER PREP running backs to keep an eye on are Kenny James (5-11, 206) of Dos Palos, Calif., and Randy Hill (6-1, 200) of Tempe, Ariz.

James sports 4.4 speed in the 40 and averaged 200 rushing yards and three TDs per game this season. This three-year varsity starter took his official visit to Pullman the weekend of the big win over UCLA and apparently gave WSU very high marks afterward, to the point of installing the Cougars as his slight leader. He's slated to visit Washington in two weeks, with Arizona State, Fresno State and Tennessee believed to be the final stops on his tour. His is considered one of the nation's top 30 prep prospects at running back.

Hill, who runs the 40 in 4.45 seconds, amassed more than 3,400 yards over the last two seasons. He's scheduled to visit Oregon this weekend and Arizona State in mid-December. WSU, Washington and possibly Colorado State figure to host him in January. His size, speed and agility make him one of the then or 12 top RB prospects in the nation. Despite the proximity to hometown ASU, he recently told national recruiting analyst Bobby Burton that he has no leader among the five schools.

Another prep ground gainer from southern climes who was drawing big-time attention apparently is leaning toward the home-state school. John Ford (6-2, 220) of Henderson, Nev., reportedly has given a soft verbal commitment to UNLV despite offers from WSU, Washington, Nebraska, Oregon and Oregon State. He runs the 40 in 4.31 seconds.

ELSEWHERE ON THE skill position recruiting scene, highly touted Los Angeles prep receiver James Finley (6-3, 190) is believed due for an in-home coach's visit this week by WSU and an official visit to Pullman on Dec. 7. He concluded his senior season with 85 catches, 14 TDs and more than 1,500 receiving yards. WSU, Oregon, Oregon State and Oklahoma are his four finalists, but the Sooners' run-first offense could put the other three front-and-center.

Another Southland lad with soft hands who's is slated to be in Pullman on Dec. 7 is Brandon Browner (6-3, 185) of Sylmar, Calif. An all-purpose athlete with 4.4 speed, he plays receiver, defensive back, punter and kicker. He's also a fine return man.

According to Burton, Browner has narrowed his list to WSU and USC.

"I talk to Coach (Mike) Walker at Washington State a lot. They're recruiting me as a ‘athlete.' I think they want me to look at playing cornerback for them," Browner told Burton. "I think I could be a good cornerback. I could use my size and speed. I'd be a little different cornerback, a lot bigger, than most people are."

Browner is the second California prospect who is believed toward to have narrowed his list to either the Cougars or Trojans. The other is coveted Butte JC running back Chris Bruhn (see related story CF.C story "Cougs look to JC ranks for RB"), who just wrapped up a 1,198-yard regular season with conference MVP honors.

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