Where's the beef?

After perusing the new recruiting classes around the Pac-10, a number of Cougfan faithful have e-mailed CF.C wondering if WSU has understocked on steak eaters.

In short, here's their line of query: The Cougars signed just two legitimate hosses in the 2002 class (an underweight long-snapper doesn't count), and but one in 2001. Is this seeming lack of fresh meat in the offensive trenches going to catch up with us a season or two down the road?

You never can tell about injuries and academics, but presuming those two factors remain status quo --- and dedication to the weight room remains paramount --- then the Cougars should be well stocked at OL for at least the next two seasons and very likely a third as well.

That's right. Well stocked.

How so?

Let me count the ways. And I'm not even factoring three guys who will play huge roles for the Cougars in 2002: First-team all-conference right guard Derrick Roche (6-5, 281); three-year starting center Tyler Hunt (6-3, 271); and sometime starting guard Phil Locker (6-5, 305).

Youth is a commodity in ready supply with WSU offensive line coach Bob Connelly's brigade. But it's the best kind of youth there is: big and experienced.

At right tackle there's the pride of Centralia, Calvin Armstrong (6-8, 298), a Sun Bowl starter, who has three seasons left in Pullman.

At left tackle you'll find Chewelah's Josh Parrish (6-6, 296), a Sun Bowl starter and honorable mention all-Pac-10 selection, who has two seasons left.

Pushing both of them is Sam Lightbody (6-9, 290), an agile giant who saw considerable action at tackle in 2001 and will be around for three more seasons.

And at guard, there's Billy Knotts (6-7, 279), a part-time starter in 2001 and a likely full-time starter in 2002 on the left side in place of graduated Joey Hollenbeck. Knotts has two seasons left. When healthy, he has flashed shades of former Cougar All-American Scott Sanderson.

In short, Mike Price has seven steak eaters who will anchor the 2002 line like a collective rock. And four of those seven --- Armstrong, Parrish, Lightbody and Knotts --- will be back in 2003.

In other words, 80 percent of the starting OL for 2003 --- that's two seasons hence --- is pretty much accounted right now, meaning that just one guy -- preferably a center -- needs to emerge between now and 2003. And who knows, Seattle walk on Mike Shelford (6-2, 267), a junior-to-be, might just prove to be what the doctor ordered.

Also, don't forget that Josh Shavies (6-6, 300) is back in the fold for 2002 and has two seasons of eligibility remaining. He could prove to be one BIG addition to the starting line up in '03.

SO NOW LET'S TURN our attention to 2004. Armstrong and Lightbody will still be around. That's three years from now, and the tackle spots for that squad --- repeat, the 2004 team --- are already locked up. And then there's one Riley Fitt-Chappell (6-7, 254), the quarterback/tight end/defensive end from Eagle River, Alaska. A year ago, Price tabbed him the steal of the 2001 recruiting class and said he had the potential to one day be an NFL offensive lineman. The lad's work during Sun Bowl practices did nothing to diminish that lofty expectation.

Bottom line, again presuming injuries and academics don't rear their ugly heads, it seems that the Cougars have three-fifths of their starting OL for 2004 --- repeat, 2004! --- pretty well settled.

So now, when you ask, "Where's the beef?" you'll understand why Price didn't use a bunch of scholarships last season or this on offensive hosses.

The Cougar head coach was clear last week following national letter of intent signings: In the current recruiting class he wanted to fill four spots with offensive linemen, and he did so in the form of Spencer Hollison (6-6, 270; named by SuperPrep Magazine as one of the top prospects in California/Hawaii/Nevada); Nick Mihlhauser (6-3, 275, named by L.A. Times as lineman of the year in the coastal region); Chicago long-snapper supreme Billy Petrick (6-5, 245), and Spokane's Charles Harris (6-6, 270), a grayshirt from a year ago.

I'll grant you that the Cougars, after 2002, won't be awash in depth at OL. But I'm not worried about it.

For one, Price can focus on replenishing the proverbial cupboard next recruiting season. And if need be, he can always pick up a JC hoss or two to bridge any gaps. But perhaps more significant is that Price's whole philosophy in recruiting is to find kids with big frames and agility --- kids like Fitt-Chappell, Brian Boyer, Bryan Olsen, Norvell Holmes --- especially Norvell Holmes --- et. al. That gives him the flexibility to move them around as needs require. In fact, you needn't look farther than the Sun Bowl team to find the perfect example. Joey Hollenbeck started at defensive tackle as a true freshman in 1998 and concluded his crimson career as an honorable mention all-conference offensive lineman in 2001.

Where's the beef?

Let us count the ways.

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