RECRUITING: Toughness defines incoming Coug WR

AFTER JUST A few minutes on the phone with <b>Benny Ward's</b> high school coach, a clear theme starts to develop. It's a theme that must have <b>Mike Levenseller</b> -- a big fan of wide receivers who are tough as nails and block like fullbacks -- grinning from ear to ear.

No two ways about it, Benny Ward figures to be a player who will stick deep in the heart of Mike Levenseller, WSU's receivers coach and offensive coordinator.

The Van Nuys, Calif., product is hard-nosed, plays whistle to whistle and when he isn't busy catching the ball, truly relishes delivering the punishing block.

"I'll tell you one thing about him, he's a great blocker," Birmingham High coach Ed Croson told "He's especially a great blocker downfield. I don't know how many times he had our "Hit of the week" for making a great block that sprung someone else, turning a good gain into a big play. He's a tough, tough kid."

There are the more traditional aspects of wide receiver play -- route-running, athleticism and oh by the way, catching the doggone pigskin. Don't misunderstand -- Ward is accomplished in all of these, and he has speed to thrill.

But there is also so much more that goes into playing the position than the statistics found inside a box score, especially at Washington State. There is a tremendous amount of emphasis placed upon wide receiver blocking by Levy and the offensive staff -- a tremendous amount.

"That's an intimidation factor," said Colson about the effect Ward had on a secondary through his blocking. "It's a 'Get off my back' factor. It's an all kinds of things factor that in turn sets up the entire receiving corps."

Nor does Ward shy away from contact when the ball is coming his way. Toss a jump ball up into the fray -- chances are Ward's going to come down with it.

"He's a big receiver, very athletic and he just always seems to come up with the ball, especially when it's thrown up in a crowd," said Croson, who four years ago came to Birmingham from Chaminade where he coached Cougar tight end Jesse Taylor. "He's a great kid, a great football player," said Croson of Taylor.

WARD WAS SELECTED to the All-city team after catching 29 passes for 534 yards and five touchdowns his junior season, a year when Birmingham won their first City title in over four decades. (This season, Croson guided the Patriots to their second title in three years with a 36-13 triumph over Dorsey.)

Ward's senior year, he hauled in 27 passes for 642 yards and 10 touchdowns. Despite the relatively small number of receptions of 27, Ward finished second in the league in receiving yardage.

Read: Tough yards. A player who doesn't stop until the whistle is blown.

"He's an untapped talent," said Croson. "Play the whole play? Oh yes, he does that."

THE ENTIRE PAC-10 contacted Ward during his senior year but in the end, Washington State beat out Oregon State and Boise State for the 6-3, 190-pound Ward. Some schools probably shied away in the end over concerns he'd meet academic requirements.

But the Cougs stuck with Ward. That loyalty is about to start paying dividends. He is now a member of their 2005 class who will be eligible to participate in spring ball.

Given the depth at wide receiver, the best thing for both Ward and Washington State might be if he redshirted. There are other reasons too. He could go through spring ball and then spend that first year getting acclimated, not just to a Div 1 football program but also to a college environment where the focus is squarely on academics.

"I hope they can be patient and let him (get squared away academically) and it all works out for him. Some of the kids in the city, people don't spend a lot of time with them. For one reason, he sat out a year. He's just got to get in the groove, get on his feet academically." "I'd say they have a real talent in him because of his ability to go up and get the ball plus his flat out foot speed. He's sub-11 flat in the 100 meters. He's a fast kid. He's a tough guy."

"He's really excited to get up there. I think he's learned from this year off. And they've got a great player in Benny. Tough kid."

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