Cougar Notebook: Apple Cup Eve Edition

SEVEN COUGAR ASSISTANT coaches were on the recruiting trail within 24 hours of last year's Apple Cup victory. This year, though, because it's a big official visit weekend in Pullman, WSU's coaching road warriors -- no more than seven at a time per NCAA rules -- won't be fully dispersed until Monday morning. They'll be home for Thanksgiving and then back out shortly with specific positions in mind.

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The tale of Benedict, er, Carl Bonnell
The likely starting quarterback for the Huskies this weekend will be CARL BONNELL, who was, briefly,a Cougar once upon a time. He signed a letter of intent with WSU in 2002 and then grayshired – the process by which an athlete effectively buys himself an extra year of eligibility by either delaying enrollment until January or enrolling in the fall but not as a full-time student. Bonnell enrolled in the fall of '02 on a part time basis with the plan to officially join the team – and his brother Ray Bonnell, a five year Cougar walk-on – in 2003.

As a grayshirt, though, a signed letter of intent doesn't technically preclude other schools from continuing to recruit an athlete until he's a full-time student. Husky coach Rick Neuheisel began calling Bonnell in October and then made him an offer. Bonnell's letter of intent to WSU, however, was deemed binding by the NCAA.

Contrary to the impression left by one major newspaper this week, WSU and Doba had no intention of forcing Bonnell to stay at Washington State but wasn't going to act until all interpretations of the rulebook were clarified. In the process, WSU even gave the Huskies a heads up that if the UW enrolled Bonnell that January the young man could end up losing two years of eligibility for violating intra-league transfer rules.

Bottom line, in order to let Bonnell transfer without losing eligibility, his original LOI – binding for one year -- had to expire. Bonnell then enrolled at UW in the fall of 2003 without penalty and with all of his eligibility intact..

Bonnell's decision to move was couched in terms of being closer to home (he's from the Kent area) and he grew up a Husky fan. No doubt fueling the fire was the fact the Cougars had two touted young guns – Josh Swogger and Chris Hurd -- waiting in the wings behind Jason Gesser and Matt Kegel.

Ironically, the careers of Swogger and Hurd didn't turn out as planned and the guy the Cougars replaced Bonnell with – Alex Brink – has started 27 straight games. "I think it's worked out well for both sides. I don't have any animosity. As long as kids are honest with me, I mean that's all I care about. Carl, his mom and dad, they're good people," Doba said this week

Bonnell may be in the record books for number of head coaches he's had. In his time at WSU there was Mike Price and Doba, and at Washington he's had Neuheisel, Keith Gilbertson and Ty Willingham.

Head coach Bill Doba says the Cougars' 2007 recruiting emphasis is on corners, safeties offensive linemen and defensive tackles. The Cougs already have secured verbal commitments from two prep o-linemen. Doba said lack of OL depth is prompting them to take more hosses than normal.

Corner and defensive line are always going to be priority, Doba said, because those are the hardest positions to find Pac-10-level potential and because good, attacking defenses are built around the play of the DTs and CBs. Doba also said, "you take all the linebackers you can get because those are your special teams players."

At the skill positions, the Cougars plan to take three wide receivers and one prep running back. At quarterback, Oak Harbor's Marshall Lobbestael announced this week that he had verbally committed to the Cougars.

IF THE COUGARS GO BOWLING this post-season, the practice plan would be just like spring workouts, Doba said. That means getting the young guys lots of work in the early going and then rolling out the game plan one week before kickoff. If you introduce the game plan any sooner, Doba said, it gets stale and the players get bored.

The Cougars, porous on defense the last two weeks, got a major boost this week with the return of defensive tackles Fevaea'i Ahmu, out since Week 5 with a stress fracture in his foot, Ropati Pitoitua, out for several weeks with a knee sprain. In addition, DT Aaron Johnson, who left the ASU game with a bad elbow, will be ready to go Saturday. The result of all this good news is two-fold. One, the Cougars' run-stopping ability improves. And two, star defensive end Mkristo Bruce will be freed up to wreak havoc.

Both Ahmu and Pitoitua have looked sharp and fresh this week, and their presence has given a boost to the rest of the team, Doba said.

The 6-4 Cougars' bowl outlook depends, of course, on the outcome of Saturday's Apple Cup. A win and they're virtually assured of an invitation, a loss and they're pretty much guaranteed to be home for the holidays. That fact was not lost on a pair of long-time Cougar watches who attended the Night at The Village Pub in Seattle earlier this week. They pointed out the similarities between this Cougar season and WSU seasons from 1989 and 1994. In both of those campaigns of yore, like this one, the Cougars came into the Apple Cup with six wins and needing a victory to secure a bowl invitation. The '89 team was done in by an interception returned for a TD on the game's very first play and lost. The 1994 team – the Palouse Posse – shutdown the Dawgs 23-6 and proceeded to defeat Baylor in the Alamo Bowl to finish the year at 8-4.

COUGAR SENIORS WILL BE busy this off season at all-star games. Charles Harris and Mkristo Bruce are headed to the East-West Shrine; Scott Davis and Steve Dildine to the Las Vegas All American Classic; Eric Framption to the Hula Bowl; and Jason Hill to the Senior Bowl.

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