In recruiting, March is the new October

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a decade makes. In 1998, when first hit cyberspace, an early scholarship offer in football meant the summer before a high school kid's senior year. Today, we're barely out of February and already 10 youngsters have verbally committed to Pac-10 teams. One of them, Oregon-bound defensive end Curtis White of Eugene made his pledge a full year ago.

And get this -- the Longhorns of Texas already have 19 verbals in the 2010 recruiting cycle. If the past is prologue, Mack Brown will have his class wrapped up in August.

WSU so far has two verbals in its 2010 class -- Spokane tight end Aaron Dunn, who last July made the earliest pledge in WSU football history; and Mason County lineman John Fullington, who gave his word earlier last month. USC, Washington and Oregon also have two verbals so far. Cal and UCLA have one each. Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State aren't on the board yet.

Ten years ago, it was head-turning if the Cougars landed a verbal in the summer before a prospect's senior year. More often than not, the first verbals started to arrive in October -- a time frame which suggested that college coaches were digesting some senior tape before making an offer. Nowadays, it seems that March is the new October.

In 2004, when prep juniors Alex Hamill and Gary Rogers verbaled to WSU in the first week of May, it was stop-the-presses time. A year later, Shelton Danzy pushed the envelope by a week, verbaling to the Cougs on April 29 of his junior year. Stop the presses again.

When Dunn made his oral pledge to Ol' Wazzu last July -- just a month removed from his sophomore year of high school -- it wasn't viewed so much as head turning as just interesting. Particularly so in light of the fact the WSU basketball program had secured a verbal commitment five months earlier from a high school freshman, (Patrick Simon of Ephrata).

In the just-concluded recruiting cycle, Paul Wulff had secured six verbals before he had taken the field against his first Pac-10 opponent on Sept. 6.

For the 2010 class, WSU has made 12 known scholarship offers so far, though the actual number is probably a bit larger.

Early offers don't necessarily equate to winning a kid's heart. Of the 19 known early offers WSU extended by mid-March of last year, only two -- Darren Markle and Gino Simone -- ended up signing with the Cougars on LOI Day a few weeks ago.

Still, as one Pac-10 coach told CF.C awhile back, there's no denying a simple fact of life on the recruiting trail: Kids tend not to forget the schools that showed them love the earliest.

It may not land you a signature on LOI Day, but it helps keep your team in the hunt.

And so it is that the Cougars already have made three known offers to kids in the 2011 class -- kids who are high school sophomores right now: Running back Bishop Sankey of Spokane's Gonzaga Prep, receiver Kasen Williams of Sammamish's Skyline High and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Gig Harbor High.

"There are pros and cons to the super early offers," one close observer of the Cougars' talent crusades over the years told CF.C. "One negative is that you can end up with Arkelon Hall when you could have had Tavita Pritchard. And look at a guy like Marshall Lobbestael. Nobody knew who the heck he was after his junior season of high school. Wazzu was the only school paying attention to his senior year -- a monster senior year -- and now they have themselves a real stud because they hadn't filled that slot early and because they had the benefit of seeing him play as a senior.

"On the positive side, early offers let you lock up a guy like Brandon Gibson before the rest of world knows how good he is. Or look at Michael Bumpus. He was headed to USC until they decided to grayshirt him and then all the early and ongoing love WSU had showed him paid huge dividends when Signing Day arrived. There's no way the Cougs would have gotten him were it not for the early love.

"Like it or not," said the observer, who asked not to be identified, "the early offer is what it is and it's here to stay. There's good and there's bad. It's just the way business is conducted in this day and age."

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