BREAKING: Oh Canada! Fleet WR in Pullman

THE KNOCK ON Canadian imports is they play against lesser high school competition. That won't be the case with Paul Wulff's latest recruiting coup. This young wideout competed against pros -- and the tape of him doing so sent WSU, Oregon and others charging across the border after him. His father? A Canadian football legend. His speed? Top flight. And he starts his WSU career in a matter of days.

Johnny Forzani (6-1, 204) looks like a linebacker. Instead, he's a lightning-fast receiver who this morning was about 30 minutes outside of Pullman in a car bound for Wazzu. He will start classes at Washington State on Monday.

He becomes the 18th known member of WSU's 2009 recruiting class.

In Forzani, WSU landed a sleeper at a position of need. He's a wide receiver with serious quicks, as you'll read about shortly. Besides WSU, schools from the Pac-10 and elsewhere came after him strong after seeing his tape -- Oregon tripped him out on an official earlier this fall. He has two years of eligibility beginning in 2009. All good news for Cougar fans. But that's not even the half of it.

INDEED, FORZANI HAS one of the most compelling recruiting backstories you'll read about this class. Forzani went out for the CFL Calgary Stampeders' rookie camp in 2008, wanting to see if he had what it took. He made the Stamps' junior team -- their scout team -- the Calgary Colts.

CFL teams like Calgary's regularly field D-I standouts on the roster. Familiar names include CB Brandon Browner, a former freshman All-American at Oregon State, Matt Grootegoed, a 4-year linebacker starter at USC and Julian Battle out of Tennessee. And here's the thing: As a scout team player, Forzani also went up against the Calgary starters in practice.

How's that for competition. It's a practice, by the way, fully endorsed by the NCAA.

"A lot of the guys on the Stampeders were ex-Division I stars, we had corners who had played in the Pac-10," said Forzani. "The fact that I got to work with pros, many of them have been in the NFL, it was great experience...all the Stamps guys this season were saying, 'Man, if we could only have done what you're doing. You're practicing with pros!' Because they were practicing against other high school players before they went to college."

Speed and competing against CFL pros
CF.C VIEWED 21 MINUTES of video on Forzani shot by Calgary. The footage contains Forzani in Calgary's training camp, practices and in Colts' games. The competition he went up against in the tape included former D-I players and CFL starters.

Forzani's speed certainly leaps off the screen. He does indeed have quick moves off the line, gaining separation that only increases as he turned on the jets. The Cougars have Forzani for the next three seasons and by enrolling now, he has the added bonus of being able to go through WSU's spring session -- Levy and the Cougars will be able to start putting the polish on him in March.

In a way, the Cougars picking up Forzani can be likened to how Wulff looks for long and lean offensive linemen with good feet and athleticism -- you can put the muscle and bulk on the o-lineman a lot easier than you can teach an already big guy to be athletic.

They just haven't figured out a way to coach speed yet, not to an appreciable degree anyway. And speed, as the video makes quite plain, Forzani has in bunches.

FORZANI HAD ORIGINALLY thought he'd play basketball at the next level. He was unstoppable in high school, averaging a ridiculous 40 ppg his senior season for Dr. E.P. Scarlett High. He nearly went to Idaho for hoops but instead stayed home to play roundball at Douglas College his freshman season in '07. Douglas won the national Canadian college title.


Johnny and his father, CFL legend Tom Forzani

Around this time, he decided to give football a shot despite never playing in high school. Football runs deep in the Forzani family -- Johnny is the son of Tom Forzani, a Calgary legend who starred from 1973-83. Forzani's two uncles, Joe and John, also played for the Stamps. And in 1983, the Cougars' Mike Levenseller joined the Calgary squad.

Twenty-six years later, the relationship between Levenseller and the elder Forzani was integral in bringing Johnny to Pullman.

"Him and Levy, the played together for years, roomed together too, so they were really close. That's not the only reason I chose WSU, but it helps to have him there," said Forzani. "After visting Oregon, their facilities, I didn't think any other place would measure up quite the same but when I got to WSU, I instantly fell in love with the town. Paul Wulff was awesome. All the other coaches were too. With all that, and with Levy, it was the best choice I could make."

Including the playoffs with the Colts, Forzani had 37 catches for 702 yards with 9 touchdowns this past season. He led the league in yards per catch (20.6) during the regular season. It was his tape, however, that grabbed the attention of the colleges -- his performance in going up against established Stamps players was an eye opener.

FORZANI DOESN'T LIKE to talk about his 40 time. In a dot com climate, where seemingly every prospect claims a 4.4, Forzani said he'd rather let his play on the field speak for itself.

The thing is, his 40 times were clocked by a CFL team. His times with Calgary?

"In the CFL, I did run a 4.37. But I ran between 4.37 and 4.45...All the college coaches called Calgary, to get the legit times from the general manager," said Forzani.

FORZANI IS still learning the position and the game. Even though he had an outstanding '08 season -- he was named Rookie of the Year in the Prairie Conference of the CJFL plus he earned first team all-star honors -- he's only been playing football a very brief time.

Forzani said, with a laugh, that Levy has made clear to him that he's going to become a much better receiver technically. Forzani also noted he chose WSU because he thinks Levenseller can get him there quicker than could anyone else. While Forzani's speed is what people will notice most in spring ball, it isn't his only attribute.

"Levy said he likes my quickness off the jam -- from my quick feet in basketball. He likes how I catch the ball. But he also said he just wants to tune me up, make me a little more crisp in (some areas). As he says, he just wants to tighten me up," said Forzani.


Johnny Forzani

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • The Calgary Colts this season made it to the PFC title game and hosted a playoff game for the first time in 18 years. The Calgary Stampeders won the Grey Cup. Forzani played both in the slot and out wide this season for the Colts.

  • Forzani was No. 22 in training camp, wearing his father's retired number at Calgary, before donning No. 78, an offensive lineman's number, during the season. "I hope I can get that number (78) at Washington State, but I doubt I can. All the guys were joking about me being the fastest lineman this year," said Forzani.

  • Forzani said he was very high on the Ducks following his Eugene trip and that Oregon told him they were close to offering. But after he visited Washington State, Forzani said everything changed and he verbally committed to the Cougs.

  • As a prep senior, Forzani set the city record with 62 points in one game at Dr. E.P. Scarlett.

  • Father Tom was a CFL all-star selection at wide receiver in 1973, '74 and '77 despite playing during one of the Calgary franchise's weakest periods. He was named one of the 10 greatest Canadian players in CFL history by the Calgary Sun in 2005. His No. 22 was retired in 1984. He's second on the Stampeders' all-time list in receiving yards (8,285), receptions (553) and touchdowns (62). Like his son, he originally went to college, Utah State, to play hoops.

  • After their playing days, Forzani's father and uncles started a sporting goods company. It became the largest largest retailer of sporting goods in all of Canada.


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