Cougs look to Texas again; big TE high on WSU

LEON BURTNETT AND Robin Pflugrad are at it again. After inking five southerners on Signing Day 2005, the two Washington State coaches --- Pflugrad the recruiting coordinator and Burtnett the assistant on point for the southern region --- are back combing the Texas countryside this recruiting season. One player they looked at in practice last week, JC tight end Jason Price, will be tripping to Pullman this weekend amid a flurry of new suitors.

Solid tight end prospects are difficult to find, but they're even more scarce in the JC ranks. It's a rare combination -- along with outstanding receiving abilities, a good tight end must also possess the size and skill of an excellent run blocker and pass protector.

WSU would like to take two tight ends this class, if the quality and potential are there. One the Cougs are in on is Jason Price, (6-4, 250, 4.65). The former prep running back, who originally signed with Houston, trips to Pullman on an official visit this weekend and has the Cougs (WSU's, not Houston's) as his frontrunner.

PRICE WAS A diamond in the rough -- until about 24 hours ago. Schools are now burning up the phone lines to both Trinity Valley and Price. Washington and New Mexico each called Price for the first time yesterday (Monday), telling him they're "highly interested." Michigan State also called Monday, and the Spartans will be by Trinity today to talk to Price. They're setting up a visit date for him to come out to East Lansing. It was last week, however, that WSU was in town.

Price saw the ball thrown to him at Trinity about as often as August snow falls in Dallas. But he ran through some passing drills during Trinity Valley's bowl game practice week with Pflugrad and Burtnett in attendance. And Price will be tripping to Pullman this weekend.

"I did some drills when they were here and I think it went well," said Price. "I'm headed out to Washington State this week...I don't get the ball thrown to me a lot but it's okay -- my job right now is to block."

WHILE MOST TIGHT ENDS who leap onto the radar do so because of receiving skills, Price has done so because of his blocking. Trinity Valley coach Mark Sartain, who's won two junior college national titles, calls him "very physical". Price is also someone of high character, according to his coach.

"He's a very diligent young man, very mature," said Sartain. "He's impressive and in a lot of ways -- physically, personally. He's a legitimate Division I recruit."

Price did his usual bang up job plowing the road and protecting his quarterback this weekend as Trinity Valley knocked off Northeast 24-14 on Saturday in the Pilgrim's Pride Bowl Classic. Price even saw a rare pass thrown his way.

"I had a good game, and they threw a pass to me," laughed Price. "But I laid a lot of dudes out."

HE MAY BE raw, but not many players are 6-foot-4, over 250 pounds and run a 4.6. And Price's potential and strength numbers are worthy of a double take. He squats 575, bench presses 390 and has a 31 inch vertical.

Checking in at 205 pounds when he arrived in Athens, Texas, Price spent his years at Trinity religiously putting in extra time in the weight room, and honing his receiving skills, regularly catching 200 balls a day this season in practice. Still, why are there no receiving stats to speak of for a guy drawing such interest?

"We don't base out of a tight end formation," said Sartain. "So the bulk of our passing game is based around the three receiver, two back offense. Jason has been primarily a blocker. Although we do run a passing game out of tight end sets, it's just infrequent that we can get it to him. But he's an athlete. He just needs a tight ends coach and a tight end offense that can polish his skills and I think he'll be a big-timer."

Price, who originally projected to be a college running back or free safety coming out of Sanger High, has three to play two at the next level. There's a possibility he could graduate this term but he might also end up receiving his AA in the spring. Price said Michigan State in particular is anxious to see if he will be a mid year transfer.

IN ADDITION to Washington State, Michigan State, UW and UNM, Price has also heard from Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas State and Louisiana Monroe and several others this recruiting season. He says WSU and Michigan State have been recruiting the hardest, with the Cougs his leader.

"Washington State is," said Price. "They're the only one that's been legitimate with me."

But location could also end up being a key factor, with Price having very strong family ties in Texas.

Comfort level and education will also be the two key factors Price takes into account when deciding where he's going to play next season. Digital graphics, computer science and automotives are all areas of academic interest for Price.

Trinity Valley, who won the conference championship this season, has won two national titles in the last 11 years, (1994, 97) and should finish in the Top 5 of the NJCAA Poll again this season -- seven of their nine wins came against Top-12 ranked opponents. A rundown on some other Trinity Valley players drawing interest from Division I-A schools:

Torey Degrate: Verbal to Texas A&M
Fred Barnett: Verbal to Arkansas
Ahtyba Rubin: Holds offers from Iowa State, TCU, South Carolina
Ric Palmer: Drawing increased interest from New Mexico, holds offers from Texas State, Arkansas State.
Lance Moss: Holds an offer from SMU
Myron Newberry: Drawing increased interest by Tulsa, Minnesota and several others

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