Rien Long, a fourth-year junior and All-American-in-waiting, said today that he's staying in Pullman for his senior season."> Rien Long, a fourth-year junior and All-American-in-waiting, said today that he's staying in Pullman for his senior season.">

Long to stay; Trufant finally arrives

NOT SINCE <b>JACK THOMPSON</b>, back in January 1978, have Coug fans heard a sweeter rendition of the phrase "I'm coming back." Defensive tackle <b>Rien Long</b>, a fourth-year junior and All-American-in-waiting, said today that he's staying in Pullman for his senior season.

In an interview this morning on KJR Radio in Seattle, Long was asked if he's eyeing the NFL for 2003. "I'm planning on coming back (to Pullman). I'd like to stay," he told host Mitch Levy.

When pressed, Long said, "I'm pretty sure on it. Unless something unforseen happens."

That's the most definitive Long has been on the subject this season. Speculation that the 6-6, 290-pound wrecking crew would make himself available for the NFL draft in April has intensified with each passing week of his outstanding 2002 campaign.

In ten games, he's posted 18 tackles for loss -- 12 of them sacks. That production prompted Oregon coach Mike Belotti to liken Long's game-altering ability to that of former Husky Steve Emtman, widely considered the most dominant Pac-10 defensive lineman of the last 50 years.

With two games left in the regular season, Long is poised to break DeWayne Patterson's WSU record of 17 sacks in a single season (set in 1993).

The Cougar defense as a whole is on track to break the single-season school record for sacks --48 set in 1989. The '02 squad currently has 44, just two less than league-leader Arizona State which has played two more games than the Cougars.

The D is also on pace to break the school record for fewest rushing yards allowed in conference games. In six Pac-10 tiffs, the Cougs have given up an average of 67.2 hashes per game -- 10.8 fewer than the legendary Palouse Posse of 1994.

LONG IS NOT THE only Cougar defender who is drawing big-time attention these days. Finally, it seems, the rest of the world is waking up to what Cougar fans have known for four years: Senior cornerback Marcus Trufant, the Pride of Tacoma, is a monstrous talent.

The newest issue of The Sporting News profiles the former Washington state high school player of the year in a story headlined, "True Value: Meet the real MVPs." The web version of it even puts Marcus on the cover.

"College football's most valuable players sometimes aren't recognized at all. The Sporting News introduces you to the MVPs of seven national championship contenders and tells you why they're the secrets to their teams' success," TSN writes.

Mike Price, who has no doubts Trufant will be a first-round NFL draft pick, likes to call the Wilson High product a no-miss guy. As in, "no flaws, no problems, no doubt in his ability. He runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. He's big and physical, thrives in man coverage and embraces critical situations," TSN gushes.

How good is Trufant? "So good," says TSN, "he made a star out of little Jason David, Wazzu's gutty, gritty 5-8, 170-pound cornerback. The Cougars' opponents rarely look to Trufant's side of the field, which means David gets most of the action."

Here's a scary thought about where the talented Cougar defense might be today if the winds of fate had blown differerntly. And it has nothing to do with Champ Simmons now starting at USC. One of the other seven guys that TSN lists on its list of "True MVPs" is Oklahoma linebacker Lance Mitchell --- the same Lance Mitchell from Los Banos, Calif., who committed verbally to the Cougars coming out of high school in 2000 but wound up at San Francisco CC where he ultimately cast his lot with Florida and then, following a dispute regarding English course credits, Oklahoma.

WHILE ON THE SUBJECT of the NFL outlook for Long and Trufant, what about Jason Gesser? Some believe size and arm strength might suggest a better fit for him in the CFL.

Not so, says Coach Price.

"I don't anticipate him being a first-round draft pick because of his size and stature," Price said, noting that scouts who have trekked to Pullman to see him have come away surprisingly impressed. "But Jason will probably be an NFL bargain as a draft choice, as a rookie player, and end up making millions as an NFL quarterback," he told the Tacoma News Tribune this week.


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