Time for some Cougar recruiting perspective

AS FOOTBALL RECRUITING GOES, I see two camps of Cougar fans right now. One group is wringing its hands over the fact signing day is just 51 days away and WSU has but four verbal commitments. The other camp, giddy with the coaching change, seems to think Paul Wulff can snap his magical fingers and start luring away kids who've said they're headed to Washington or elsewhere.

Here's the truth of the matter.

For the crowd with the worry beads in their hands, rest assured that the Cougs won't be announcing a recruiting class of four when letters of intent are signed on Feb. 6. In fact, in this day and age where commitments are made earlier and earlier, look for this class to be heavy on the Marshall Lobbestael types – in-state kids who weren't on the radar this past summer and fall, but blossomed as their senior seasons unfolded.

For the Wulff-is-magical crowd, the odds -- at this late date -- of him turning around more than one or even two kids who already have pledged allegiance elsewhere is minimal. The news that Cory Mackay of Redmond has turned his Washington commitment from solid to soft so he can trip to Pullman is encouraging, but the reality is that there's not enough time to pack a year's with of wooing into several weeks. Hoping is fine, but there's no cause to hold your breath.

Now back to the Lobbestael theme. You may remember that he came out of seemingly nowhere last season to lead Oak Harbor to the state title, and in the process he earned State Player of the Year honors. He will challenge for the starting quarterback job at WSU this spring.

The question is, how many late-bloomers like that are out there? Based on the amount of Division I-A talent the state of Washington typically produces, I'd guess a half-dozen. Skylar Stormo, the tight end/defensive end from Kamiak who committed to Wulff the other day is a classic example. That's the type of kid Wulff will be searching for over the next few weeks, not the four- or-five-star kids whose decisions were made up long ago.

Then there's California. The talent is wide and deep and much of it already is spoken for. But there are kids who are getting attention from the Colorado States, Nevadas and UTEPs of the world who would dearly love to prove they're Pac-10 material -- we're talking about athletes like Dwight Tardy, Eric Frampton and Nick Mihlhauser. Wulff will be targeting them as well.

So let's say between the states of Washington and California, the Cougs pick up eight of the late-bloomer types to go along with the four verbals already in the fold. That gives them 12. Then there's J.T. Levenseller, a grayshirt who will count toward this year's class. That makes 13. Fill in some pressing needs with three or four JC kids and you have a class of 16 or 17.

To me, given the reality of the calendar, that would be a hugely successful class for the Cougs.

Why only 16 or 17 (or maybe even less)?

Because the 2009 recruiting class is the one that Coach Wulff can truly impact in a big way. He doesn't need to be tying up scholarships now simply for the sake of getting bodies in the program. Each school is allowed 85 players on scholie at any one time-- giving away five-plus of them just to fill space will come back to bite you.

The Cougs need to grab the best they can find between now and Feb. 6 and then put all energies into loading up with 25 bona fides (the maximum number allowed in a single class) a year from now.

Leaving those extra scholarship slots open, so they can be filled next season, could be one of the most prudent moves Coach Wulff makes. No, it won't generate headlines or propel WSU up Scout.com's recruiting rankings, but it is the right thing to do. Just as it is, at this juncture, to focus on the Skylar Stormos of the world rather than the Kavario Middletons.

At the end of the day, the pessimists among us need to smile and the optimists need to come back down to earth. The Cougars' 2008 recruiting class will be just fine. It won't be highly rated and it won't blow your socks off, but it'll fill the bill and make a nice bridge between the 2007 class – by all accounts a very good (and underrated) one – and Wulff's 2009 class.

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