Cougs strike walk-on gold

ONE SPENT THREE years in the Kansas City Royals' farm system. Two are sons of former Cougar players -- one of them also the grandson of a WSU legend. Two others hail from the same Spokane high school that has produced some of the most storied names in Palouse history. Two from East King County have people scratching their heads over how they passed under the major college radar. And another is back home after a year of Division I-AA ball and ready to make a mark in the Pac-10.

They are the nine players invited to walk on to the WSU football team this season.

Together, they make for one of the most memorable groups of non-scholarship players ever to show up at Martin Stadium at the same time. Their talent takes a bit of the sting out of the fact 25 percent of the regular 2004 class of recruits failed to qualify academically.

And get this. They'll be joined in January by another kid with serious crimson blood lines: Tony Thompson. A standout tight end on Ballard's state runner-up team last season, his genes are about as good as they get. Dad is Jack Thompson, the fabled Throwin' Samoan of the 1970s who rewrote the NCAA record book before all was said and done on his remarkable Cougar career.

No matter how you slice it, the Cougars have struck gold with their newest group of walk ons.

Here's the run down:

Alexis Alexander

Alexis Alexander, linebacker
The former Royals farm hand is so versatile that he's already changed positions three times, going from receiver to defensive back and now linebacker. After getting drafted in the 18th round in 2001, he racked up 355 career minor league at bats, hitting .225 with five homers and 22 stolen bases. He spent the 2002 season with the Class A Spokane Indians, just 20 miles from his boyhood home in Medical Lake. As a prep senior in 2000 he was an all-league and honorable mention Class 2A All-State performer in football. He played in the East-West All-Star game with fellow Cougars Thomas Ostrander and Pat Bennett. As a junior he set the all-time Medical Lake record for longest kickoff return -- 99 yards.

Fritz Brayton

Fritz Brayton, punter
Talk about blood lines. This kid's cup runneth over with crimson and gray.

His dad, Fritz Brayton Sr., played receiver at WSU in the early 1970s, catching balls from Ty Paine under the watchful eye of Jim Sweeney. His grandfather is none other than Bobo Brayton, an All-American Cougar infielder before going on to become the school's legendary baseball coach.

If that's not enough, his cousin Tyler Brayton plays for the Oakland Raiders. Fritz Jr., from Portland's Waterview High, was a first-team all-Metro League pick in 2003.

Nick Cantlon

Nick Cantlon, offensive lineman
A first-team all-Greater Spokane League pick as a junior and senior.

Played both ways for Lewis & Clark –- the same school that produced such nationally recognized Cougar linemen as Dan Lynch, Johnny Bley and Harold Ahlskog -- and squatted a school record 465 pounds.

Turned down Big Sky scholarship offers to walk on at WSU. A star in the classroom, he received recruiting overtures from Ivy League schools as well.

Bryant Claudon

Bryant Claudon, tight end/center
Son of Ron Claudon, a huge Cougar booster and a talented center at WSU in the late-70s and early 80s whose career was cut short by a knee injury.

Bryant was a two-year starter for Auburn High at tight end and defensive end. En route to all-league honors, he averaged 20 yards per catch his senior season.

He also served as a long snapper for three years -- one big reason why he was invited to walk on at WSU. He was a starter on Auburn's 2003-04 basketball team, which won 20 straight games.

Kipp Curtis

Kipp Curtis, receiver
A standout on both sides of the ball at Pendleton (Ore.) High, he earned honorable mention all-league honors at defensive back.

On offense, he hauled in 44 receptions for 850 yards and eight TDs as a senior.

A superb all-around athlete, he also starred in track and wrestling.

Blake Ferguson

Blake Ferguson, receiver
He size (5-9, 180) isn't impressive and his speed is good, rather than eye-popping. But ask opposing coaches who've watched him burn them over the years and they'll tell you WSU landed a gem. A fearless competitor with great athleticism, he was a first-team All-KingCo 3A choice as a junior and senior at Issaquah High, and a consensus All-State pick in 2003. He was also named KingCo's '03 special teams player of the year for his punt and kick returns. He earned second-team all-league honors on defense. As a senior, Ferguson caught more than 50 balls for 1,000 yards in leading team to 12-1 record. He starred in this summer's East-West All-Star game, out-leaping a DB to haul in a 27-yard TD pass from future WSU QB Cole Morgan. He had thumb surgery in July and saw his first action today (August 26).

Drew Hansen

Drew Hansen, offensive lineman
A Kennewick product who played his 2003 freshman season at Northern Arizona.

Certainly has the frame for the Pac-10 –- he stands 6-8 and weighs 300 pounds. A three-year letterwinner and two-year starter Southridge High, he was a Big 9 All-Conference selection.

Named most improved player at Idaho's summer camp in 2000 and voted all-camp in 2002.

Adam Hineline

Adam Hineline, defensive lineman
Like Blake Ferguson, many observers were surprised that this 6-2, 260-pounder didn't land a major college scholarship after tearing up the Kingco 3A for two seasons at Bellevue's Newport High.

He was a two-time, two-way all-league selection and 2003 league lineman of the year. Picked all-region by the Seattle Times and all-state by He led the conference in tackles for loss (10) and was in the top 10 in total tackles with 68.

Injuries to teammates forced him to play just about every line position on offense and defense as a senior.

Carl Shaw

Carl Shaw, receiver/tight end
A two-time All-Greater Spokane League receiver for Lewis & Clark High -- the same school that produced such Cougar legends as Erik Coleman, Bill Gaskins and Gail Cogdill. He has soft hands and is a great blocker. A super athlete, he also punted and spent time in LC's secondary and defensive line. He starred for the Tigers in basketball where he showed off one-step-jamming ability. Dad played hoops at Eastern Washington and younger brother Josh is a touted prospect at LC this year. Carl projects as a receiver, but has the frame (6-5, 205) to play TE. For a time last season he was considered a top 50 prep prospect in the Pacific Northwest. He had offers from Big Sky schools, but 40 times that didn't break 4.6 cost him a Pac-10 scholie.

QB Cole Morgan (TheInsiders)

AS FOR TONY THOMPSON, who plans to enroll in January along with former Ballard High teammate and Cougar grayshirt Cole Morgan, his upside could be huge. Literally. Consider that Thompson went from 165 to 200 pounds between his junior and senior seasons and is still growing.

He's now 6-2, 233, putting him on the same growth path as older brother Jack Jr. (6-4, 250-plus and playing semi-pro ball).

Tony Thompson

Tony was second-team all-conference last season at tight end, catching 30 balls. Depending on the growth curve, linebacker could be in his future as well.

Three other things make him one to watch. First, his dedication and work ethic are outstanding. Second, the genes just don't get any better. And third, he has excellent fundamentals – no doubt thanks to the tutoring he's received since childhood from pappy but also, on game weekends in Pullman, from his dad's closest friend -– a guy named Mike Levenseller.

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