COMMENTARY: Doba's 'best class' crafted late

IT HAS ALMOST completely escaped notice, yet it bears repeating. Sure, Bill Doba offered up the standard quips this past Signing Day, saying he'd be able to tell how good the recruiting class was in a few years. And an ol' ball coach always wants to wait until the rookies arrive, to see them in his scheme, before truly passing judgment. But then, this spring, Doba departed from the norm.

In a candid moment earlier this year, Doba said this new class of recruits is the best the Cougars have signed since he became the head man in January 2003.

The customary caveats about academic hurdles being cleared always apply, but so far the news on that front has been all good.

CRIMSON COMMENTARY
Terry Mixon, the 5-star safety expected to immediately contribute this season, is just about a lock. He was on the bubble back in February but as reported by CF.C earlier here and here, his academic adviser at Grossmont College says "he's doing great" in his final class and will have it wrapped up this Thursday. His arrival in Pullman is expected shortly thereafter.

Already on the Palouse and enrolled in summer classes are two corners -- the Cougars' biggest need and where Doba used five scholarships in the '07 class. Chima Nwachukwu and Devin Giles will compete for a starting spot next month and both appear to have very bright crimson futures. A third corner, Romeo Pellum, arrived a little over a week ago.

Humble, eager to learn yet confident, Pellum appears to have some swagger to him, a virtual prerequisite for a Pac-10 corner. And WR Daniel Blackledge and LB Hallston Higgins also enrolled early at WSU and have been getting a head start.

While it's never for certain until the NCAA Clearinghouse gives the thumbs up and rookies hit the practice field, confirmation on the remaining members of the class could be coming out any day, with fall camp kicking off at Washington State in less than three weeks. It is expected the Cougs will have few academic casualties.

IF THE CLASS does indeed turn out to be Doba's best, there's an interesting point to be taken into account when considering the Cougs' next recruiting class, the class of 2008.

Crafted with roughly 20,500 air travel miles, the '07 class was in no small part formed by a strong close by the WSU staff over the last 4-6 weeks. That's noteworthy because the trend in college is to secure verbal commitments earlier and earlier. And yet WSU scored by picking up a load of talent in December and January.

Consider this: Of the players who signed with the Cougs on Letter of Intent Day, a whopping 15 of them verballed to WSU after Dec. 17.

There are also three more junior college players who came on board after Signing Day -- OL Reed Lesuma, LB Ken Dunn and CB Alfonso Jackson.

For fans worried that the Cougs have no known verbals yet for the 2008 class, that notable nugget is something that might offer a small measure of relief. The Pac-10 has been going early verbal crazy this spring and summer, and it's been a nervous Cougar Nation looking at the WSU commit list and seeing a zero.

Meanwhile, every other Pac-10 school has at least three known verbal commits, with an average tally among those nine schools of 8.4 verbals. UCLA leads the way with 22.

WHILE IT IS TRUE a recruiting class can only be evaluated years down the road, the Cougar Nation will get a quicker appraisal -- in part -- on the '07 class early returns.

Defensively, the Cougs came out of spring ball far from where Doba wants them -- a big part of the woes stemming from the secondary, especially at corner. Doba has been clear that he is counting on a number of players from the '07 class to help immediately -- Mixon, Giles, and Nwachukwu, for instance, could even have a chance at starting. Pellum shouldn't be counted out either.

Cougar special teams have been decidedly sub-par the past few years. Players like Hallston and Eric Block will be counted upon to contribute in no small part to the Cougar coaches' expectations of a decided resurgence in that area for 2007.

If the defense and special teams are indeed bolstered by the incoming class, and the Cougs make a bowl game in no small part because of their contributions, Doba is going to look like a genius waiting to pick up as many verbals as the Cougs did late in the process.

Just one more storyline that will be authored in both a season rapidly approaching, and over the recruiting year to come.


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