Seen & Heard 2/28

I FOUND TWO BROAD THEMES a week ago in Bill Doba's annual dinner presentation to the Pierce County Cougar Club. One is speed. The Cougs picked up a load of burners in their newest recruiting class. Indeed, with only a third of the 23 signees being big men, the group is heavy on fleet feet.

Led by running back Derrell Hutsona at 4.33, WSU signed 10 players who have been clocked in the 40 at 4.5 seconds or less. The other theme of the night, in terms of recruiting, was less encouraging.

I didn't keep track, but I do know that Coach Doba's rundown of the newest crop of Cougars included a lot of caveats about academic houses that need to be put in order before getting to Pullman.

While he gave no reason to believe there was cause for widespread concern, I must confess that on his third reference to academic obstacles still to be cleared, my mind instantly flashed to "Bloody Thursday." That was the day in July 2004 when Robin Pflugrad announced that 25 percent of that year's recruiting class had failed, or was expected to fail, to qualify for the Cougars that season.

Ironically, two of the kids in that group of eight are now part of this new class following two seasons of JC ball: running back J.T. Diederichs and receiver Charles Dillon. They still must complete their AA degrees before getting to Pullman. Diederichs, whom Doba said has quite a bit of academic ground yet to cover, is wrapping things up at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham now that his old school, Dixie State (a.k.a. Snow JC) in Utah, has elevated itself to a four-year college.

Speaking generally about academics, Doba reiterated his belief that Division I schools will be relying more on JC transfers starting in 2008 because of new NCAA eligibility requirements being put on high school graduates.

THE DINNER AUDIENCE included a number of familiar faces. Among them: Jack Thompson, Steve Wolfe, Collin Henderson, Shawn Deeds, Marcus Trufant and our beloved "CougMaw," Steve Gleason's mom Gail. Marcus' auction donation of an autographed Seahawks jersey and suite tickets to a game at Qwest generated some serious coin that was split by the WSU Athletic Foundation and the Trufant Family Foundation.

Collin Henderson, by the way, is doing an outstanding job as the coordinator of WSU's resurrected Gray W Club. His aim is to get former Cougar letter-winners reconnected with the school and back on campus for special events. Recent efforts have been impressive. Last fall he brought the legendary Cardiac Kids of 1965 together for a 40th reunion, and last month he orchestrated a basketball reunion to honor former coaches George Raveling, Marv Harshman, Jud Heathcote and Jack Friel.

JIM STERK AND COACH DOBA spent a fair amount of time at the dinner talking about the proposed upgrade and expansion of Martin Stadium. If the dollars are raised, we're talking about a gorgeous new home for the Cougars. The net impact on seating will be an addition in capacity of 7,000. When asked where all those new bodies will be staying while in Pullman, Sterk said Notre Dame and Auburn offer parallels. The college towns themselves don't have enough hotel rooms so people stay in the surrounding communities. In regard to Pullman-Moscow, I don't suppose that means Dusty or Dayton. Maybe Colfax and Lewiston. But in reality, probably Spokane.

THE 2005 COUGAR DEFENSE, which rated at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 in most statistical categories, didn't blitz as much as previous years because the unit didn't have the same type of speed. Asked if we'll see more blitzing in 2006, defensive coordinator Robb Akey said the spring session will offer insights but right now the defense is a long way from being able to blitz with abandon.

With all the speed coming in with the new recruiting class, Akey smiled when asked if the defense still gets first crack at rookie talent -- a practice instituted by Mike Price way back when. Affirmative, said Akey, before backtracking slightly. Turns out he wasn't allowed to nab one athlete who he said would have made a star cornerback -- a running back by the name of Jerome Harrison.

Speaking of Jerome, The Sporting News reported recently that his workouts before the Senior Bowl really turned heads and his draft stock is rising rapidly. He also had a stellar performance and the NFL Combine in Indianapolis last week. Presuming he concludes matters with a solid Pro Day workout for NFL scouts in Pullman next week, you'd have to say he's done virtually everything possible to put himself in line for a second-round selection come draft weekend in April.

* Incoming new Cougar defensive end Kevin Kooyman, whom Akey is very high on, just won his second straight Class 4A state wrestling title in the 215-pound weight class. The pride of Tahoma High in Maple Valley, Wash., was a first-team All-State Class 4A defensive line pick by the Associated Press last fall. Also a standout in track and field, The Seattle Times calls him "one of the finest three-sport athletes in the state."

* You couldn't help but notice at the Pierce County Cougar Club gathering that Doba was very comfortable on stage. He has really grown into the role as chief spokesman for the university and had a real sense of leadership about him at the dinner. I also think he learned a lesson from last year at this same dinner when he guaranteed that the Cougars would conclude the 2005 season in a bowl game. No predictions of any kind from him on this night --- though reading between the lines it seems clear he feels his club has the talent to make some hay.

* Three cheers for the surging Cougar baseball team. They opened the season with a 12-game road trip and came through it with a 10-2 record that included a victory over nationally ranked Missouri. The Cougs are home starting Thursday for a series of games in Pullman with Chicago State and down the road in Lewiston with L-C State and Gonzaga.

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