A Most Intriguing Pick Up

IT'S NOT AS if he played in the likes of Delta, B.C., or Spangle, Wash. --- obscure football outposts that produced two of his mates in WSU's newest class of football recruits. But <b>Mkristo Bruce</b> nonetheless passed under the serious radar of Pac-10 recruiters and today looks like one of the most intriguing of Mike Price's 2002 pick ups.

Bruce hails from Liberty High in Renton, a long-standing member of the suburban Seattle Kingco 3A League, where he was a mainstay on both sides of the ball --- quarterback and linebacker --- for two seasons. He runs like the wind and is athletic enough to star in basketball and track as well football.

Bruce is a 6-foot-6, 210-pound package of nitro-burnin' agility with the greatest first name --- it's Swahili for "Christian" --- this side of Shaumbe Wright-Fair. Yet he managed to go virtually unnoticed this past recruiting season. Not one of the so-called experts had him anywhere on the D-I prospect list.

An all-conference honorable mention pick as a junior and a first-teamer as a senior, he still had everyone this side of South Bend asking who the heck he was after verbally committing to WSU during his official trip to Pullman in December.

Everyone, that is, except Mike Price, Bill Doba and Mike Walker.

When Mkristo left Price's annual summer football camp for aspiring gridders last June, the coaches had visions of D.D. Acholonu dancing in their heads. D.D. as you may recall, was a lightly recruited Seattle-area product in whom Price & Co. saw massive untapped potential. In 2001, that potential turned into a monster season in which Acholonu, a second-year freshman defensive end, posted 14 tackles for loss and led the Pac-10 in sacks with 9.5.

Bruce is three inches taller than Acholonu and can easily pack on another 20 pounds, which would bring him to an Acholonu-like 230.

"I love this guy," Price gushed recently at his annual dinner with the Pierce County Cougar Club.

Bruce is going to turn into a standout defensive end or outside linebacker for the Cougars, Coach Price enthused. And if not on D, he might have what it takes to excel at tight end or receiver.

Bruce earned first-team all-league honors at linebacker last season and was a second-team choice at quarterback, where he piled up 1,300 yards of total offense and scored six TDs.

Bruce's physique, athleticism, work ethic and attitude --- especially attitude, willing to try virtually any position besides his native QB at Price's camp --- make him the ideal recruit.

To put his potential into truly proper perspective, consider that he doesn't turn 18 until mid-way through the 2002 season. The Cougars will likely grayshirt him, delaying enrollment until January to effectively buy him an extra year of eligibility.

BRUCE ISN'T THE only member of WSU's new class to come out of nowhere. Price termed 6-2, 205-pound Steve Dildine, a running back/linebacker from Spanaway's Bethel High, "a gift from heaven." A gift, mind you, that runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds and loves to hit.

Dildine hadn't played organized football since eighth grade but emerged on WSU's watch list at the same time Mkristo Bruce did --- at Price's football camp last summer.

After Dildine had a few of games under his belt at Bethel, proving he was a real deal, the Cougars made their move before this diamond in the rough was uncovered by others.

Dildine, who projects as a linebacker or perhaps safety, took the South Puget Sound League by storm in 2001, scoring a state record 44 TDs and rushing for nearly 2,300 yards. He is only the 27th player in state history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season.

He helped lead Bethel to a 12-1 record, losing only to Carl Bonnell's Kentwood High in the playoff semifinals. He was a unanimous all-state selection and was picked by the Tacoma News Tribune as the state player of the year.

* Price characterized another in-state recruit, 6-5, 240-pound defensive end Aaron Ware of Timberline High in Lacey as a one-man wrecking crew. "He runs, he hits, he has a great attitude. He leaves it all out on the field." Ware posted 105 tackles --- 40 of them solo --- this past season en route to all-league and second-team all-state honors. Very agile, he's also a standout in basketball.

* Price said new recruit Nick Mihlhaueser (6-4, 268) of Arrroyo Grande, Calif., is the likely heir apparent at center after Tyler Hunt concludes his stellar crimson career at this season's end. Mihlhauser was voted lineman of the year in the Northern League, a conference of schools located near the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He played tackle as a junior and center and guard this past season.

* Price was a little worried that the Huskies might have an advantage over the Cougars in wooing highly touted West Hills, Calif., tight end Jesse Taylor (6-4, 238). Rated one of the top 10 tight end prospects nationally, Taylor's sister plays soccer at the University of Washington. Alas, it turns out that Jesse is brainy as well as athletic, choosing to matriculate on the right side of the mountains. He has the size, speed (4.72), strength and maturity to contribute early. Besides WSU and UW, Taylor tripped to ASU, Colorado and Oregon State.


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