Seen & Heard 12/13

MY ANNUAL DISCUSSION ABOUT star gazing is usually reserved for January, but my sense among the faithful is that we've reached new heights in the preoccupation with recruiting ratings. Does a kid have two stars or three, four or five? As all 13 of my devout readers can attest, I'm no fan of the star system. While better than throwing darts at a wall, this annual forecast of what prepsters will accomplish when they're 21-year-old college students is, in my opinion, little more than a crap shoot.

Case in point. In 2003, WSU signed a modestly recruited kid from California who had played one year at receiver after three at quarterback. He was rated a two-star prospect. A perfunctory call to his prep coach for insights and stats produced a startling discovery: The coach said the kid was on a trajectory for the NFL.

The NFL?

He's got two-stars next to his name, yet his prep coach says he's got NFL written all over him? You've probably heard the young man's name: Jason Hill.

That very same recruiting year, there was another wide receiver who was the talk of the Internet. He was a four-star, can't-miss prospect.

And like the record-setting Hill, who will decide shortly whether to declare early for the NFL, this kid has been in the headlines of late, as well. His name is Craig Chambers. The former Husky is expected to announce shortly which Division I-AA school he's transferring to.

There are more disparate examples.

In 2002, the Cougars signed a 6-4, 268-pound offensive lineman out of Arroyo Grande, Calif. He was a one-star wonder. Yet Nick Mihlhauser played as a true freshman and started for three seasons – this past one while on the watch list for the Rimington Award, given annually to the nation's best center. Meanwhile, in that same 2002 recruiting year, our friends at Montlake signed four-star hoss Nathan Rhodes. To the best of my knowledge, he never played a down of college football.

The recent Cougar past is filled with absolute studs whose stars must be combined in order to match the recruiting luster of Casey Paus all by himself. I'm talking about Will Derting, Scott Davis, Erik Coleman and Marcus Trufant. Together, their prep star power equals the five-star plaudits of Washington's graduating third-string quarterback.

Forecasting the weather is a science. Forecasting young athletes is an educated guess -- one best made by college coaches with the aid of their prep counterparts. And even then it's difficult. Look at Oregon State's All-American receiver Mike Hass. Nobody but nobody wanted him out of high school.

The reasons behind the star system's shortcomings are clear.

First and foremost, the evaluators for the various services aren't coaches. They work hard, do their homework and make their best judgments. But they're not Robin Pflugrad clones.

Second, the sheer number of high school and JC players precludes analysts from scouting more than a fraction of the talent pool. That simple fact also skews the focus toward the kids from major metropolitan areas. If you live in Okanogan, Wash., Superior, Mont., or Lena, La., good luck cracking into the upper-echelon.

And finally, there's the mental, physical and emotional adjustment that takes place between high school and big-time college football. A lot can happen, pro and con, over the course of the next four or five years. Moreover, injuries are an equal-opportunity hazard.

So there you have it. My annual lecture on why no one ought get too hung up in the stars. I think they're best viewed as a loose guidepost. Certainly they can be right on, as the lofty ratings afforded Jerome Harrison and Michael Bumpus in 2004 firmly attest. But generally speaking, they're mostly like grits: Best eaten with a grain of salt.

IT'S BEEN NEARLY A MONTH since the Cougars' wildly entertaining victory in the Apple Cup, but the glow burns bright. Winters absolutely, positively are warmer when you have a victory over the Dawgs in your back pocket. Speaking of the Apple Cup, I have to tell you how impressed I was with this tale told to me by someone who was standing just a few feet away from Mike Levenseller down on the field after the game. Given the frustrating eight weeks leading up to that game, and given the dramatic way the Cougs won it, on the road against their arch-rivals, you'd figure the offensive coordinator would be bee-lining to the celebration in the locker room. Not Mike.

When a booster congratulated Levy on the win and then introduced a little boy adorned in Cougar garb, Levy got down on eye level and asked the youngster if he knew the Cougar claw handshake. The little boy shook his head no. Levy showed him how to bend his fingers into the shape of a claw and then interlocked their two clawed paws for a shake. They capped it off with a Cougar growl. Talk about a classy guy. And get this --- Levy's last words on his way up the tunnel, when asked how hard the season must have been, were that this was a team he'd never forget because the players never, ever stopped fighting.

SPEAKING OF LEGENDARY Cougars, did anyone catch the CFL's Grey Cup championship a couple of weeks ago? Old Palouse Posse mainstay Singor Mobley is the defensive captain of the Edmonton Eskimos, who won their second Grey Cup in the last three years with a dramatic 38-35 overtime victory over Montreal. Mobley, the pride of Tacoma and a former Dallas Cowboy, has become one of the most prolific tacklers in Edmonton history. He's also a great citizen, regularly lending his efforts to good works in the community.

MOVING ONTO BASKETBALL, I've been struck by two things in the last week. First were the comments by Gonzaga head coach Mark Few that the Cougars are playing like an NCAA tournament team right now. And second was the performance of WSU true freshman Caleb Forrest in the Cougars' 60-49 win over San Diego State. He played just 15 minutes, but talk about productive. He connected on 4 of 4 shots from the field and 2 of 2 from the charity stripe to finish with 10 points. He also nabbed two rebounds and blocked two shots.

Head coach Dick Bennett says the third season of a rebuild can be the toughest, but from where I'm sitting I really like what I see -– especially from sophomores Robbie Cowgill, Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. If these guys keep improving and the post situation gets a bit nastier on the glass, it could be a very interesting season.

For those of us in the Westside of the state, don't forget that the Cougars are coming to town over Christmas break. They take on Utah at Key Arena on Dec. 22. Tip off is at 7:30. Great seats remain. Go to to purchase yours today.

HAT'S OFF TO THE greatest back in Cougar football history. Jerome Harrison was today nameed first-team All-America by the Associated Press. Back in my day, that would have earned him an appearance on the annual Bob Hope Christmas Special. AP's designation, coupled with earlier ones, makes it pretty fair to call Jerome a consensus All-American, joining -- if memory serves -- Mike Utley, Jason Hanson and Clancy Williams as the only modern-era Cougars to be consensus.

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