Hard-nosed Texan trips to Pullman this weekend

<b>IT'S DOWN TO TWO Cougars and a Bear for the Class 5A defensive player of the year from Texas. Linebacker Joe Pawelek, billed by his high school coach as one of the premier football prospects in the Lone Star State, will travel to Pullman this weekend on his second-to-last official visit before letters of intent are signed in 13 days.

The pride of Spring Branch, a Houston suburb, Joe Pawelek will choose from among Washington State, Houston and Baylor, leaving Texas Tech, TCU and Rice to ponder what might have been.

He doesn't have a leader at this point.

Pawelek, who is described as a tough-as-nails scrapper, visited Houston last weekend and heads to Baylor for a final trip next weekend.

"I've spent a long time looking forward to the visits, looking forward to getting to know the schools and the programs so I can then make a decision," Pawelek told Cougfan.com.

A long time indeed. Pawelek and his Smithson Valley High teammates played right up until Christmas, losing in the state final to the No. 1-rated team in the nation on a field goal as time expired. Calling Pawelek "clearly one of the premier players in Texas," his prep coach said the Rangers' extended season and the early commit process explains why Pawelek is still on the market.

"He's not an early commit guy," said Smithson Vally head man Larry Hill. "So as it worked out, he will only have had three or four weekends to take trips. So there's some Big 12 teams, like Texas and A&M and others that by and large get theirs done by early commit, that might be kicking themselves a little bit at this point."

On his trip to Washington State, Pawelek will be on a fact-finding mission.

"I want to get to know the program and coaches, the campus and the school. And I'd like to see how education will fit in with the sports side of it. I'm looking forward to it," he said.

WSU linebackers coach Leon Burtnett, who has secured verbal commitments from two other Texas prospects (DeMaundray Woolridge and James Bradley), has handled the recruitment of Pawelek.

Pawelek says he's looking for a position coach and coaching staff that he'll be able to forge a relationship with.

"Someone who can relate to me … someone who will be there for you."

Pawelek is an honor student who is considering an engineering major. He scored an 1150 on the SAT and is No. 9 in his graduating class. He's also a standout baseball player.

During his football career at Smithson Valley, the Rangers have played in the state title game three out of the last four years. That accomplishment is even more mind boggling considering that Smithson Valley competes in the highest classification in Texas.

"I try and do my job," said Pawelek. "I just try to get the ball and help the team."

Consider that a job well done. Over 16 games in 2004, Pawelek logged 201 tackles with 15 of them being tackles-for-loss. He also forced 7 fumbles, picked off a pass, blocked 3 kicks and recovered 6 fumbles.

Smithson Valley has a rich football tradition. Over the last eight years, the school has lost just eight regular season games.

"He's the best football player that we've ever had, regardless of position," said Hill, who in recent years has sent players on to Texas A&M, Texas Tech, UTEP and elsewhere.

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