Seen & Heard 10/12

THE COUGARS ARE JUST two wins shy of bowl eligibility with six games left, but what really has me excited about the future is the quality of the youngsters on this team. Based on what I've seen and heard this season, I count at least seven mostly unheralded kids who could one day have their names uttered in the same sentence as past greats such as Will Derting, D.D. Acholonu and Cory Withrow.

I'm not talking about the Michael Willis' and Fevaea'i Ahmu's of the world. I'm talking about kids flying in large part under the major limelight radar.

Let's start on offense, where second-year freshman Kenny Alfred of Gig Harbor has won the starting nod at center. He reminds me of Nick Mihlhauser, now with the San Diego Chargers, both in terms of size (6-2, 285) and natural feel for the demands of being the "quarterback of the line." He's perhaps not as athletic as one of the all-time great Cougar centers, Robbie Tobeck of the Seahawks. But his agility is right up there with Withrow, the long-time Viking now with the Chargers, who, like Alfred, is adept at both guard and center. And at this stage, Alfred is quite a bit bigger than Withrow was.


GUARD ANDY ROOF

Another wet-behind-the-ears lineman whose future looks most promising is Andy Roof, a third-year sophomore from Spokane's West Valley High. He missed the first three games of the season following thumb surgery but is now starting at right guard. He's big (6-4, 303), athletic and quite possibly the strongest lineman on the Palouse over the last decade. Having missed three weeks of the season, look for the quality of his play to improve dramatically as he gets his timing down and picks up assignments better, and he showed glimpses of what's to come with a solid outing against USC.

Another lad on offense who is turning heads this season –- on the practice field, as opposed to game days -- is redshirting freshman tight end Trevor Mooney. The buzz out of Pullman on this 6-5, 240-pounder from Mission Viejo, Calif., is all positive.

Asked about him in an interview this week, Cougar head coach Bill Doba had great things to say. "Trevor has really surprised me. He's come in here and done everything we asked –- he's going to be a very good tight end. He's been outstanding working on the scout team, playing fullback and tight end, and he's doing a great job in the classroom. He's just a kid you can depend on."


D-END MIKE GRAISE

Over on defense, the Cougars' cup of youth runneth over. Two true freshmen -– linebacker Andy Mattingly (6-4, 235) and defensive end Kevin Kooyman (6-4, 237) –- are making hay and a third-year sophomore, defensive end Mike Graise of Inglewood, Calif., is showing signs of becoming, well, the next Lance Broadus. Broadus is the junior DE who, in turn, is flashing glimpses of the Cougars' speed-rushing glory days of D.D. Acholonu.

Doba was asked this week about all four players.

"Mattingly is a tough kid who reminds me somewhat of Will Derting -– not as fast, but a big hitter with good feet. He and Kooyman look to be very special," Doba said. "Kooyman is in the Isaac Brown mold, but he's got the bone structure to add weight and maybe move inside to defensive tackle."


LINEBACKER ANDY MATTINGLY

Mattingly's hitting prowess has been apparent on special teams –- especially so two weeks against USC when he knocked two players out of the game, himself and his USC target, with a monstrous collision. He missed the OSU game with a concussion but is expected back in pads this Saturday.

While the 6-2, 219-pound Broadus, as a junior, doesn't officially qualify as a youngster, this is his first season of prime time, so I'm fudging and tossing him into the mix. Stepping in for injured Matt Mullennix as the starting end opposite Mkristo Bruce, he's been stellar this year. So has his understudy, the 6-3, 216-pound Graise.


DEFENSIVE END LANCE BROADUS

"They both have great quickness. They just need to put on some beef," Doba said. "Both of those guys could become special players by the time they leave here."

Broadus is No. 2 on the team in sacks, with 4.5. He's also intercepted a pass and swatted down two others. And Broadus, who is really put together, has been surprisingly stout against the run despite being on the lighter side for an end. Graise has 13 total tackles, including three for loss, and three quarterback hurries, plus an interception for a touchdown.

Bruce, who leads the nation in sacks with 10, spares no words when talking about Broadus. "He comes in here, 220 pounds, and plays like he's 250," he told CF.C last week. "I give him a lot of respect. He gets out there and plays with the big guys, he's just fun to watch, so I am always excited to see him on the field."

SPEAKING OF PEOPLE with impressive defensive statistics, Cougar senior safety Eric Frampton's nine-tackle day at Oregon State has put him well out in front for the Cougars' 2006 tackling title. He now has 46 stops on the season, 10 more than Bruce and sophomore middle linebacker Greg Trent. Scott Davis, the reigning Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week, is next on the list with 35.

By the way, Bruce this week was named by CBS Sportsline.com to it's "Halfway All-America Team." In fact, senior writer Dennis Dodd said of Bruce, "magical Mkristo is only the best defensive player in America."

THIS SATURDAY'S SHOWDOWN at Martin Stadium between the Cougars (4-2) and No.10-ranked Cal (5-1) figures to keep the scoreboard operators busy. Cal is averaging 447 yards of total offense per game, second-most in the Pac-10, and WSU is averaging 414 yards per outing, third-most in the conference. Cal leads the Pac-10 five major statistical categories: passing offense, pass efficiency, scoring offense, turnover margin and net punting.

One factoid not in the Bears' favor is won-loss record in Pullman. The Bears have lost 10 straight games on the Palouse, with the collective score 354 to 165. The last Cal victory in Pullman was in 1979.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: The second annual Cougar basketball coaches' dinner in Seattle is set for Thursday, Oct. 26 at Salty's on Alki. First-year men's head coach Tony Bennett and women's head coach Sherri Murrell will be the featured speakers. All proceeds go to the student-athlete scholarship fund at WSU. The cost is $55 for Athletic Foundation members and $65 for non-members. To reserve your spot, contact Todd Thrasher at 206-448-1330 or thrasher@wsuwest.edu.

Bennett will be back in Seattle with the entire team on Dec. 21 for the second annual Cougar Hardwood Classic at Key Arena. Tip off is at 7:30 pm. The Cougs will take on defending Mountain West Conference champion San Diego State. Last season the Aztecs won 24 games and made their second trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2002. They're coached by Steve Fisher, who led Michigan to the NCAA title a decade ago. Click to www.cougarsinseattle.com for more details and to order tickets.

NOTABLE NOTE: While CF.C is planning a full-fledged article on the topic sometime soon, I figure there's no time like the present to let the Cougar Nation know that volume one of the new feature film about the history of Washington State football is now on sale. "Legends of the Palouse," produced by WSU alum Jeff McQuarrie, is getting rave reviews from a who's who of the crimson world, including Drew Bledsoe, Keith Jackson and Mike Price. To get your copy, click to Legends Of The Palouse.

Speaking of Mike Price, the Associated Press reported this week that he and Buddy Ryan will be the coaches for a new postseason All-Star game that will pit the best college players from Texas vs. the rest of the nation. The game is set for Feb. 2 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Ryan is the pugnacious former coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.

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KENNY ALFRED MANS THE MIDDLE.


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