Seen & Heard 5/9

THE COUGARS WILL BE well-represented July 1 in the East-West Class 3A-4A all-star football game in Everett. There will be two Cougs on each side. Kevin Kooyman, a tight end/defensive from Tahoma High, and Jason Butler, a receiver/defensive back from Eastside Catholic, will suit up for the West. Micah Hannam, a two-way lineman from Peninsula High and Luke Fowler, a receiver/defensive back from R.A. Long High, will do battle for the East. Butler and Fowler are coming to WSU as invited walk ons.

The all-star game for Class 1A-2A talent will be played in Yakima on June 24. It won't feature any future Cougars but it will include four standouts from Pullman High's state champion Greyhounds: Ashton Gant, Mike Thomas, JC Sherritt and Jeff Jones.

Another member of that championship team, star junior receiver Aaron Pflugrad, won't be coming back to the 'Hounds for his senior season. With his dad, former WSU recruiting coordinator Robin Pflugrad, now coaching at Oregon, young Aaron recently transferred to Eugene's Sheldon High (Cougar quarterback Alex Brink's alma mater). While not big, at 5-10 and 165 pounds, Aaron is agile and has hands of glue. He's drawing recruiting interest from WSU, Oregon State, Arizona State, BYU, Boise State, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana and others.

THERE'S GOOD NEWS IN the world of the college football post-season. We West Coast purists no longer have to fret about the notion of no Pac-10 team playing in the Rose Bowl in years when Pasadena hosts the BCS championship game. Starting in 2007, the national championship contest will no longer be rotated among the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. Instead, a brand new bowl game is being created solely for the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams to square off in.

The site of that title contest will still rotate among Pasadena, Phoenix, New Orleans and Miami, but the game itself will be in addition to those regular bowl games. This isn't a situation where winners of those four bowls will be considered for the big game. The championship contest will just expand the major bowl line up to five, with teams picked right after the regular season concludes.

Meanwhile, the Pac-10 is reportedly close to tying in with the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu for 2006. The four-year-old game has been a WAC vs. Conference USA affair, but it now looks like the No. 6 team in the Pac-10 will be headed to the islands against a WAC opponent.

FROM THE CATEGORY OF OBSCURE statistics we have the Pac-10's summary of instant replay useage in the 2005 football season. In 60 games, 401 plays were reviewed and the call on the field was reversed just 27 times. The average length of a review was two minutes, but play had to be halted only 74 times to complete the analysis.

While on the subject of interesting stats, I love this one. In the long history of the Heisman Trophy, only two Pac-10 schools have had more top 10 finishers than Washington State. With Jerome Harrison's No. 9 showing last winter, the Cougars have had eight players finish in the Heisman top 10. Only USC (10) and UCLA (9) have had more. The first Cougar to crack the top 10 was three-time All-American quarterback Ed Goddard, in 1936. Goddard, by the way, also holds the distinction of being one of only two Cougars taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL draft. He was the second man taken in 1937 and Ryan Leaf was in 1998.

AND SPEAKING OF THE NFL draft and Ryan Leaf, I can't tell you how tiring it is every April to watch the national media's annual bashing of Leaf. As far as draft busts go, Ryan certainly deserves mention. But the yearly thrashing of him is absolutely ridiculous. To me, it's merely an example of lazy, pack journalism.

How come Terry Baker, the 1962 Heisman Trophy winner from Oregon State who was drafted No. 1 overall in 1963, isn't trotted out every spring and spat upon? Heck, he even graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as 1962 Sportsman of the Year. He attempted all of 21 passes in an NFL career that spanned a whopping 18 games – the majority of which he played as a second-string receiver before moving on to the CFL for one season!

Why not bash Tim Couch and Akili Smith, the No. 1 and No. 3 overall picks in 1999, instead? Or maybe Rick Mirer, the No. 2 pick in 1993? Or Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrior, the No. 3 pick in 1967?

All quarterbacks, all busts.

And yet every April there is just one guy whose name and photos are plastered everywhere and it's Ryan Leaf. I know he put a permanent target on his back with that caught-on-tape locker room outburst in San Diego. But really. Enough is enough.

THE DRAFT FORECAST FOR next year is that record-setting receiver Jason Hill will not be the only Cougar who figures to go on Day One. The Sporting News quotes an AFC scout as saying defensive end Mkristo Bruce would have been a first-day pick this year and that his stock will rise this season as he becomes more polished against the run and in developing his rush moves. TSN's Matt Hayes calls Bruce "A sleeper defensive stud," and projects WSU's D to be "stout" in 2006 with a solid front seven.

BACK IN THE SUMMER OF 2000, when Tyler Howard was a senior-to-be at Inglemoor High north of Seattle, the spirited young receiver and defensive back took it upon himself to send his analysis of WSU's then-brand new FieldTurf in Martin Stadium. Tyler, attending WSU's annual football summer camp, was one of the first people to actually play on the Turf. Considering that WSU was only the second Division I school in the nation to install the innovative stuff, it was quite the novelty and young Tyler's interesting story about it drew rave reviews from our readers.

Now fast forward to this past summer, when Tyler -- the son of maniacal Cougar fan Rich Howard -- was playing on turf of a different variety and dodging more than just tacklers. An Air Force senior airman stationed in Southern Iraq, mortars were a frequent reminder of the danger all around. One day the guys decided to play a little touch football and headed out into the sun to have some fun. Moments later, one of their tents took a direct hit. If it hadn't been for the football game, which brought everybody outside, the tent would have been full of people.

I'm pleased to report that Tyler, 22, finished up his tour of duty right about the time the Cougar basketball team was sweeping the Huskies. He's now back home and aiming to become an air traffic controller.

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