Cougars' Achilles: 2004 recruiting class

THE UNFORTUNATE SEASON-ending injury last week to quarterback Gary Rogers puts a sad exclamation point on the black hole that was WSU's 2004 recruiting class. Of the 24 prep players in the talent pool that signed with the program right after the Cougars' third-straight 10-win season -- a talent pool, mind you, that should be carrying a big load this season -- only three became major contributors.

By major, I mean the athlete started for two years or more and played at a high level relative to the competition faced week in and week out in the Pac-10.

Three players out of the 24 prepsters signed. That's it.

One of them was offensive lineman Dan Rowlands, a starter in 2006 and 2007 whose 2008 season was ended by shoulder injuries. The other two -- Michael Bumpus and Jed Collins -- are in the NFL this season because they played as true freshmen and used up their eligibility in four seasons.

Twelve of the class's high school signees -- a whopping 50 percent of the total -- either never made it to campus to begin with, ran into academics troubles after arriving on campus, transferred, or were done in by injuries before ever contending for playing time.

Of the remaining nine, seven started at least one game at one time or another -- including Matt Eichelberger and Michael Willis, who are line-up regulars this season -- but none had staying power. In fairness, Willis, who is only a fourth-year junior, still has time to break the mold.


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One athlete from this group of nine, lineman Andy Roof, was expected to contribute this season before off-field woes scuttled those plans on the eve of the season opener. His plight, coupled with Rowlands' fate and what happened to Rogers against Portland State, serves as a fitting capstone to a recruiting class that seemed to be snake-bit right from the start.

Indeed, the trouble came early. Remember Bloody Thursday? That was the day in July 2004 -- five months after letters of intent were signed -- when it was announced that eight members of the '04 class (seven prepsters and one JC transfer) wouldn't qualify academically. Three of them -- Charles Dillon, Benny Ward and Willis -– eventually did earn entry.

On a percentage basis, the JC portion of the 2004 class fared much better than the high schoolers. Running back Jerome Harrison of course turned into a record-setting All-American, defensive back Tyron Brackenridge had a breakout senior season, and Greg Prator was a steady special teams performer who also caught a few passes. Lineman Letrell Myers never set foot on campus.

Bottom line, if you want to point fingers in the wake of the Cougars' 1-4 start this season, the meltdown of the 2004 recruiting class is a good place to start. Fifth-year seniors, which the redshirting freshmen of 2004 would now be, are the lifeblood of a stable program. Their leadership skills and on-field wisdom are greater than the sum of the parts.

Academics, injuries and other factors bring attrition to every recruiting class at every school. However, the Cougars' 2004 edition, with just three out of 24 prep signees turning into bona fide Pac-10 performers, was a nightmarish convergence of woe.

And the repercussions go beyond the opportunity lost. The effect on the current crop of Cougar rookies is considerable. Depth issues this season have forced head coach Paul Wulff to burn the redshirts of six of his 2008 rookies. That's six more than he would have burned in the ideal world, and three or four more than he estimated on signing day that he would have to torch.

The six are freshmen receivers Jared Karstetter and Kevin Norrell, JC transfer running back and return man Chantz Staden, freshmen linebackers Louis Bland and Mike Ledgerwood, and freshman safety Tyree Toomer.

This early playing time will serve those six players well next season, but dollars to doughnuts that when Karstetter, Norrell, Bland, Toomer and Ledgerwood aren't here in 2012 with their classmates who are redshirting, we're going to be talking about how nice it would have been to have that proven talent back in uniform for one more campaign. And facts are facts: a guy is a heck of a lot stronger, smarter and more productive in his fifth season than his first.

In college football, the proverbial thigh bone is connected to the hip bone is connected to the backbone is ..., sometimes painfully, true.

Think about that for a moment. The meltdown of the 2004 recruiting class, with its repercussions on the 2008 class, could have a notable effect on the 2012 football season.

As Jim Walden likes to say, it's not the Xs and the Os, it's the Jimmys and the Joes. More specifically, it's about getting the Jimmys and the Joes who will stick. Injuries aren't controllable, but much of everything else is.

The chances the previous WSU staff took on academic question-marks in 2004 didn't pay off. Misguided player evaluations that put too many second-tier athletes in crimson certainly didn't pay off either.

Those mistakes are hamstringing Paul Wulff right now. They're mistakes that can be corrected with future classes, but they can't be corrected overnight.

However, with the stable, quality recruiting classes Wulff brought in this season and Bill Doba brought in the year before, the turnaround may be somewhat closer than it appears on the field right now.

That's not going to warm the hearts of the crimson faithful when the Cougs are surrendering 60-plus points every Saturday, but it reason for optimism.


The High Schoolers

WR Michael Bumpus: Four-year starter, now with the Seahawks. Left WSU as the most prolific receiver and punt returner in history.

TE Jed Collins: Played a variety of positions in four years, capping it off with a stellar senior campaign in 2007. Now with the Philadelphia Eagles.

OL Dan Rowlands: Started in 2006 and '07 and was penned in for 2008 before shoulder injuries ended his career.

DT Matt Eichelberger: Entered this season with nine career tackles and one start. Has started every game this season.

WR Michael Willis: Academic woes delayed his enrollment by one season. Saw time at safety and on special teams in 2005 and 2006. Redshirted last season. Now a starting receiver, with one more year of eligibility remaining.

DE Mike Graise: Fifth-year senior. Started two games in 2007. A deep back up this season.

WR Benny Ward: Fifth-year senior. Grayshirted, redshirted and a deep back up playing mostly special teams ever since.

QB Gary Rogers: Fifth-year senior. Alex Brink's backup finally earned the starting job for 2008, lost it to Kevin Lopina and was looking to take it back when knocked out for season against PSU with back injury.

QB Cole Morgan: Grayshirted, redshirted, then a back up to Brink and Rogers. Now No. 2 QB at Western Washington.

OL/DL Andy Roof: Off-field woes dogged him. Started five games in 2006, not enrolled in 2007, expelled from school this season.

K Loren Langley: A starter for three years, but struggled mightily and lost the job as a senior last season to Romeen Abdollmohamadi.

WR Charles Dillon: Failed to qualify academically out of high school, but came back to play two seasons –- 2007 as a starter -– following junior college.

DE Lawrence Ball: Ruled academically ineligible by WSU (not the NCAA) on the eve of the 2004 season and signed with Arizona.

LB Tyson Kirksey: Failed to qualify academically out of high school and again out of junior college.

DB Randy Estes: Failed to qualify academically.

DE Jason Roberts: Spent one redshirt year at WSU and then transferred to Fresno State.

DE Colin Donovan: Came to WSU but never played. Two blown knees ruined his chances

LB Alex Hamill: Deep back up plagued by injuries. With one year of eligibility remaining, left program following last season.

LB Bryan Baird: Deep backup who left program in 2006 due to health issues related to concussions.

RB/DB Ian Bell: Deep back up who left the program after last season, with one year of eligibility remaining.

OL Eddie Vickers: Left program after one redshirt year due to academic woes.

TE/OL Jacob McKinney: Dogged by injuries throughout. Left program last season.

LB Steffan Blume: Left the program after one redshirt year.

RB J.T. Diederichs: Failed to qualify academically out of high school and again out of junior college.

The JC transfers
WR Greg Prator: Played two years, mostly on special teams.

DE Letrell Myers: Failed to qualify academically.

CB Tyron Brackenridge: Had to sit out one season at WSU for academics but came back for a standout senior season in 2006. Was with Kansas City Chiefs last season.

RB Jerome Harrison: Consensus first-team All-American in 2005. Now with Cleveland Browns.

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