Seen & Heard 9/29

FOR THOSE OF YOU who aren't regular readers of the Hot News section at the top of this page, you're missing out on some heart-warming tidbits about the future of Cougar football. Case in point: The long-term legacy of Quarterback U. appears to be in great, great shape with a prep signal caller from Fresno who's having a monster season.

Arkelon Hall, one of the West Coast's premier QB prospects and a WSU verbal commit, has thrown 11 TDs and piled up more than 700 yards through the air in Edison High's first three games. Perhaps more impressive is that Edison's offense isn't all pass – Hall is averaging less than 20 attempts per game.

Two other prep standouts who already have committed verbally to WSU also are off to outstanding starts this season: Running back/cornerback Shelton Danzy of Seattle's Rainier Beach High and receiver/defensive back Brandon Gibson of Rogers High in Puyallup. Danzy so far has rushed 51 times for 471 yards -- that's 157 yards per game and 9 yards per carry. He's also returned a fumble 80 yards for a TD. Gibson, meanwhile, has racked up 491 all-purpose yards in three games, with 259 coming on returns, 170 in receptions and another 62 rushing. Talk about athletic, he's also an all-league performer in basketball.

WHEN COUGAR PUNTER Kyle Basler uncorked that record-setting 87-yard boot at Arizona last weekend, it must have been déjà vu all over again for Cougar assistant coaches Mike Levenseller, George Yarno and Ken Greene, as well as radio color commentator Jim Walden. All four were on the sidelines in 1977 when Gavin Hedrick, widely considered the greatest Cougar punter of all time, unleashed and 82 yarder in a 17-10 win over Cal. Walden was an assistant coach at the time under Warren Powers and the other three were en route to all-conference honors. Remarkably, that wasn't the longest punt of Hedrick's career. Two years before he let one sail, also against Cal, for 83 yards.

Basler, though, looks to me like he's going to displace Hedrick on WSU's all-time team. This year's he's averaging more than 46 yards per kick, to go along with 41.1 as a freshman in 2002 and 42.6 last season. The capper to it all is his ability to kill the ball inside the 20. Last season he did it 30 times and so far this year he's done it seven times. Basler's work at Arizona, in which he averaged a record 53.4 yard per punt, earned him Pac-10 Special Teams Player of the Week honors for the second time this season.

SPEAKING OF THE Arizona game, I left Tucson with two thoughts dancing through my head. First, that sophomore linebacker Scott Davis was robbed of a TD when he picked up that last-minute fumble and rumbled to the endzone, only to have the ball ruled down before he picked it up. Scott – with 18 total tackles and 3.5 TFLs -- is having a breakout season and that would have been a deserved headline for him. Alas, the Cougs still got the victory courtesy of the turnover so that's what counts most.

The second thing that struck me about the game was Wildcat head coach Mike Stoop's behavior on the sideline. He looks like the most abrasive dude to hit the Pac-10 since Joe Avezzano was dishing up nasty grams during four miserable seasons at Oregon State in the early 1980s. While Arizona State's Dirk Koetter comes across as a truly classless boor, Stoops takes the cake for pure bluster. Apparently at Oklahoma it's cool to constantly berate officials and charge out on the field with assistant coaches in tow. I found it horribly distasteful. And imagine how nervous his poor wife gets when she sees that vein on his neck on the verge of popping. Whoa Nellie, not pretty at all.

ON OCTOBER 9, WHEN the Cougs host Oregon, it will mark the fourth time in five games the other team's coaching staff has included a former WSU player or coach. The Ducks' special teams and tight ends coach is Robin Ross, an all-conference offensive lineman for the Cougars in the mid-1970s. Last week at Arizona the familiar belonged to Kasey Dunn, a long-time Mike Price assistant who went with Mike to Tuscaloosa. The week before that, against Idaho, there was Johnny Nansen, a WSU linebacker in the mid-1990s. And against Colorado there was Craig Bray, a Cougar assistant under both Price and Dennis Erickson. Old home week will continue all season long. Stanford's staff includes former Cougar player and coach Steve Morton; USC has early 90s DB Greg Burns; and Washington has former Cougar player and radio color commentator Scott Pelluer.

AT THE WSU-COLORADO game at Qwest Field earlier this month, our executive editor had the honor of meeting 79-year-old Ray Schaaf – a devout Cougar fan with a unique place in Palouse football history. He was a member of legendary Cougar coach Babe Hollingbery's last recruiting class at Washington State. Ray joined the program in 1942 in what turned out to be the Babe's final year of coaching. Because of World War II, Cougar football was discontinued from 1943-45 for lack of players. Most were in the military – including Ray. After the war, a salary dispute kept Babe from returning to the sidelines. Ray, however, did come back in 1946. He was injured that season but lettered at end for head coach Phil Sarboe in 1947.

By the way, Ray's brush with greatness doesn't stop with Hollingbery. Grandson Steven Schaaf was a walk-on linebacker on WSU's 1998 Rose Bowl team, and another grandson is none other than Dustin Cho, the teen techno wizard who helped get CF.C off the ground back in 1998. Dustin has many claims to fame. In junior high, he went an entire year wearing only Cougar-logo shirts. That prescience, in retrospect, presaged another great achievement by Dustin. Last year he received a PERFECT score on his SATs. Yes, a perfect score! He's a freshman at Yale this fall and working as an online editor for the school newspaper. Still, mom and dad (both WSU grads) report that he remains, like Grandpa, a Cougar fan for life.

IT DID MY HEART GOOD to see former Cougar defensive ends D.D. Acholonu and Isaac Brown earn practice squad spots with the Texans and Seahawks, respectively. The two sack-masters are playing linebacker these days. The spirit and speed they brought to the Cougar D during those three consecutive 10-win seasons was something to behold. They're also just plain ol' good guys.

And speaking of Cougars in the NFL, I think Sports Illustrated may have to change WSU's nickname from QB U to DB U. Former Cougar secondary sensations Erik Coleman, Jason David, Marcus Trufant and Lamont Thompson are having excellent seasons so far. Moreover, Steve Gleason, a star linebacker on the 1998 Rose Bowl team, is a Saints safety and scourge on special teams, while former Palouse Posse DB Brian Walker, when not injured, is one of the NFL's steadiest secondary performers.


Cougfan Top Stories