Levy: Top 3 WRs great; backups all unproven

MIKE LEVENSELLER CALLS Jason Hill "one of the best receivers ever to play at Washington State," yet the graduation of ol' No. 83 to the NFL doesn't worry him. He's sky high on his top three returning wideouts, terming Michael Bumpus, Brandon Gibson and Charles Dillon "three really good players" who will sing in 2007. His concern going into spring ball is developing depth behind The Three Tenors.

Experience aside, Levenseller -- WSU's offensive coordinator and receivers coach -- will have no shortage of contenders to evaluate when the pads go back on next month. And he'll add three more faces to the mix in the fall when prep speed burners Jeshua Anderson and Daniel Blackledge arrive with the new recruiting class, and one-time safety Michael Willis, who is sitting out the spring session following shoulder surgery, is back in action.

Looking to make a mark in the open spaces this spring will be senior Finas Rabb, juniors Benny Ward and Scott Selby, sophomore Greg Walker and second-year freshmen Anthony Houston and Keith Rosenberg. None has caught a ball in a Pac-10 game.

Rabb (6-6, 190) improved dramatically last season after transferring in from Santa Ana College, but was slowed for much of the year by a sports hernia. He's now healthy and "shows a lot of promise," Levenseller told CF.C Friday in Bellevue just prior to the start of the annual WSU coaches dinner for King and Pierce counties.

Ward (6-3, 187), a distinguished special teams performer over the last two seasons, and Selby (6-6, 225) will have their best opportunity to get into the rotation now that Hill and Chris Jordan are gone.

Walker (6-4, 170), Houston (6-3, 190) and Rosenberg (5-10, 194) all have "good athletic ability and talent -- now the question is how quickly they can become Pac-10 receivers," said Levenseller.

As for the starters -- Bumpus (5-11, 192), Gibson (6-0, 198) and Dillon (6-1, 180) -- there is no doubting their Pac-10 bona fides.

Bumpus, who will be a senior in '07, caught 60 passes last season -- moving him past brand new Cougar assistant coach Steve Broussard into No. 7 on the WSU single-season list. Bumpus led the Pac-10 in receptions for most of the campaign before going down with a high ankle sprain against Arizona in Week 10. He has 125 career catches. Levenseller said his work in the Apple Cup, on that bad leg, was nothing less than extraordinary. "He didn't practice for two weeks, didn't warm up before the game and then goes out and puts on a show (5 catches for 43 yards). That really tells you what kind of heart he has and what kind of ballplayer he is."

Gibson, a junior-to-be from Puyallup, was No. 6 in the Pac-10 last season in receiving yards. He caught 49 passes for 731 hashes and four TDs. "He's a great athlete, a pretty special player," Levenseller said.

Dillon came to WSU last year from Oxnard Community College and caught 15 balls for 119 yards, with 12 of those catches coming in the final three weeks of the season when he replaced injured Jason Hill in the line up. "He may be the most athletic guy in the whole group (of receivers)," Levenseller said.

IN HIS REMARKS TO THE crimson faithful during the dinner program, Levenseller joked that he looks forward to the day when "Levenseller to Thompson" will be a familiar phrase on the Palouse. His quarterback son, J.T. Levenseller, signed a letter of intent with the Cougars last week. He'll be joining a team that includes third-year sophomore tight end Tony Thompson, son of legendary Cougar quarterback Jack Thompson. In the late 1970s, Levenseller, a Cougar receiver, teamed with the Throwin' Samoan to make "Thompson to Levenseller" among Bob Robertson's most enduring calls. "I've lived in Jack's shadow forever," Levenseller quipped about his No. 2 billing.

Tony Thompson, by the way, just earned a scholarship after two years of walk on duty. He was WSU's long snapper last season and will battle for the No. 2 tight end position this spring behind Jed Collins.

Levenseller said he basically recused himself -- at both ends of the equation -- in the Cougars' recruitment of his son.

"It makes me happy, after the fact, that he's going to be a Cougar, but I didn't want to influence the decision (for either party). I didn't even sign the (letter of intent) papers -- Allison did. J.T.'s a pretty mature kid, able to make his own decisions. He knows the ups and downs of all this. He's been in the lockerroom after losing a Rose Bowl, and in the lockerroom after winning an Apple Cup to get into the Rose Bowl."

J.T. will grayshirt this season and enroll full time in January 2008, effectively buying himself an extra year of eligibility and, also, putting a year of distance between him and the other quarterback in the new recruiting class, Marshall Lobbestael.

NOTABLE NOTES:

* Michael Willis, whose move to receiver was necessitated by a bum shoulder that can no longer withstand the punishment of playing safety, is expected to receive medical clearance to start running in April and will be fully healthy when fall camp opens in August. Levenseller said the downtime this off season will give the 6-2, 213-poound Willis a chance to fully digest the playbook. "He catches the ball well and is aggressive," Levenseller said. "I look for him to compete in the fall." Levenseller also noted that the Cougars initially planned to take a JC receiver in the new recruiting class, but felt Willis was as promising as any junior college wideouts available so opted to use that slot on a defensive back.

* Keith Rosenberg showed promise on the scout team last fall of succeeding Michael Bumpus at slotback in 2008.

* The Bellevue coaches dinner Friday was hosted by WSU-West and the King County Cougar Club and drew 350 crimson faithful. It came on the heels of a similar "Night With Cougar Football" in Olympia on Thursday that attracted more than 200 Coug fans. The Olympia gathering was the first coaches dinner hosted by the South Sound Cougar Club, and they plan to make it an annual event. The Bellevue event is an outgrowth of the annual dinner the Pierce County Cougar Club used to hold -- an event, noted Bill Doba, that began modestly about 15 years ago with a dozen attendees and just kept on growing.

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