Seen & Heard 7/26

THE NEWS IN and around Ol' Wazzu is starting to move at a steady clip as the countdown to fall camp and the August 31 season opener in Seattle is now within spitting distance. Oh, how it's nice to be thinking about pigskins again.

WORD THAT long-snapping phenom Billy Petrick has decided to pass up a football scholarship --- and likely playing time as a true freshman -- for a shot at professional baseball was no easy decision for the lad even though he was drafted by his hometown club, the Chicago Cubs, and offered a $500,000 signing bonus.

The 6-foot-6 right-handed pitcher with a major league reputation for long-snapping excellence told the Morris Daily Herald this week that he pondered his fate mightily, but finally decided to go with baseball when the Cubs agreed to pay for his college education after he's done with baseball.

If Billy makes it all the way to Wrigley Field, he won't be the first Cougar football signee to play there. In 1978, WSU head coach Jim Walden signed an athletic quarterback from Spokane by the name of Ryne Sandberg. A few months later the Phillies enticed Ryno with a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $30,000. A laughable amount by today's standards --- especially when you consider that he'll be inducted into Cooperstown next summer.

Speaking of former Cougar football signees who opted for pro baseball, Forrest Lawson, the Puyallup receiver/defensive back from WSU's recruiting class of 1999, appears to have finally found his stroke. After three years of struggle at the plate, the rightfielder is hitting .287 with 27 RBIs in 157 at bats for the Mets' single-A club in Columbia, S.C.

NEWS THAT WSU senior split end Mike Bush is down with a stress fracture in his left foot shouldn't be all that worrisome to we crimson faithful. For one, trainers think he'll be recovered in time for the season opener Aug. 31 against Nevada. For two, having Bush on the sidelines simply gives more practice reps to highly touted Florida State transfer Devard Darling who sat out last season. It might also be worthwhile to take a look at No. 2 slotback Jerome Riley in that split end spot; the kid's a gamer who needs to be on the field, anywhere, early and often.

THREE CHEERS for WSU sports information director Rod Commons. He's working the Heisman campaign for Jason Gesser beautifully. You can hardly pick up a national publication of late without some mention of the 25-foot-tall Gesser poster that was hung on the side of the grain elevator in Dusty.

Perhaps more impressive, though, has been the much-deserved recognition of Cougar senior guard Derrick Roche that Commons has helped usher along. Roche, who has 27 starts under his belt entering this season, has been a unanimous pre-season All-Pac-10 choice, but he's also attaining national attention. Football News and Street and Smith's named him a first-team pre-season All-American and The Sporting News tabbed him for the second team.. He's also on the "watch list" for the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's top o-lineman.

THANK THE GHOST of Bear Bryant for small favors. Alabama's Crimson Tide have taken the Cougars off the hook for that Nov. 30 game at Hawaii. With the Cougars' contest at UCLA moved to early December for national TV reasons, the last thing WSU needed was a giant road trip the week prior to play a non-conference game against a team that can be dangerous. If 'Bama hadn't answered Jim Sterk's phone call and filled the date on Hawaii's schedule, the Cougs could have been left holding an invoice for $200,000.

As it is, WSU now has two weeks to prepare for what we hope will be two of the pumas' most important games since 1997: Washington on Nov. 23 and UCLA on Dec. 7.

Speaking of Hawaii, did you see where the NCAA has added three more bowl games to the post-season line up, including one in islands? That means 56 schools out of the 112 playing in Division I-A will be bowling this season. That's what I call product dilution.

WHILE I KNOW it's impolitic to look ahead on a schedule, facts are facts: After Nevada and Idaho, the Cougars travel to Ohio State for what could be one donnybrook of an intersectional showdown. While the notion of Gesser and his cadre of receivers working their stuff against two rookie cornerbacks has had me high-steppin' for months, The Sporting News' Tom Dienhart proved deflating last week with this little factoid: Since 1990, the Buckeyes have lost only four August or September games -- vs. USC in 1990, at Washington in 1994, vs. Miami in the Kickoff Classic in 1999 and at UCLA last season.

The Buckeyes are coming off a 7-5 season and return a boat load of talent at back and receiver, on the defensive line and at safety. Lack of an experienced QB, however, could prove nettlesome in the early going.

IF YOU HAVEN'T purchased your tickets to the season opener in Seattle against Nevada, you have about 35 days left to do so. Call 1-800-G0-COUGS. You'll be glad you did. Plenty of good seats remain (which is actually rather shameful at this late stage, but nonetheless true).

FROM THE NFL comes this word from down Tampa Bay way. Former Cougar receiver Milton Wynn spent the off-season working out like a fiend and could see some serious PT in 2002. A year ago, after being waived by the Rams, he spent most of the season on the Bucs' inactive roster.

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