Cougar Notebook: Don't believe all you read

PULLMAN -- Washington State seniors Xavier Hicks and Kenny Alfred, two of the clear leaders of this year's Cougars, have a succinct message for the crimson faithful who are growing tired of the procession of national publications forecasting dour things for their team: Don't believe everything you read.

"We don't worry about rankings and all that," said Xavier Hicks, WSU's No. 2 tackler last season behind Greg Trent. "We worry about the guys in our locker room."

Added Kenny Alfred, a Rimington Award watch list pick, "That stuff's based on paper and last season, and that's fine. There's not a whole lot anyone in the nation has to go off except our record last season. It's a new season. Those (rankings) are preseason things. They can be a motivator for us."

On the other hand, Hicks says, maybe the Cougars should just ignore the rankings.

"Paying attention to that stuff is going to make us take a step back," Hicks said. "We're taking steps forward. That's what we're focused on."

DOZENS OF OLD COUGAR ballplayers were in Pullman over the weekend for a gathering of the Gray W letterman's club. Among those on hand was Hugh Campbell, the record-setting receiver of the early 1960s who went on to a hall of fame career in Canada as a player, coach and general manager. Other notables in attendance included 1965 Cardiac Kid Bud Norris, late 70s stars Jack Thompson and Don Hover, and two of Paul Wulff's fellow O-line standouts from the 1980s: John Husby and Chris Dycko.

Former Cougar coach Jim Sweeney, who rebuilt the program following the disaster known as Bert Clark, was also on hand. He explained why he departed WSU following the disappointing 1975 season: "I left for health reasons – I was making the athletic director sick."

GIBSON APPLAUDED: Brandon Gibson is certainly no lock to make the Philadelphia Eagles as a sixth-round draft pick, but the rookie wide receiver from Washington State impressed Sheil Kapadia of the Philadelphia Inquirer subsidiary Philly.com.

"Brandon Gibson is definitely looking to make the most of his opportunity," Kapadia wrote after the Eagles' preseason opener against New England last week. "Great block downfield on a pass to (Eldra) Buckley in the closing minutes, and nice catch to set up the Eagles' first touchdown."

IN OTHER COUGAR NFL news, Alex Brink, Washington State's all-time leading passer, has been re-signed by the Houston Texans. Brink, Houston's seventh-round draft pick last year, spent the entire 2008 season with the Texas but did not appear in any games. He was released in June after Houston signed veteran QBRex Grossman. Texas re-signed Brink after Grossman suffered a pulled hamstring Saturday in a preseason game.

HE DUNN GOOD: Spokane tight end Aaron Dunn is rated among the top 300 high school senior football prospects in the land, says Scout.com in its latest compilation of talent for the 2010 recruiting class. Dunn, who is verbally committed to play his college ball at Washington State, is 6-6 1/2 and 235 pounds. Scout has him slotted as the No. 218 overall prospect in the country. He is ranked the No. 8 tight end prospect in the nation. In addition to football, he is a standout in basketball and in the classroom.

LOW HAILED IN HOMELAND: Former WSU basketball star Derrick Low has been named one of the 50 greatest people or teams in sports during Hawaii's first 50 years of statehood. Low, a Honolulu native, is generally regarded as the best high school basketball player in Hawaii history. After splitting his first pro season between Australia and France, Low is looking to return to Europe, perhaps in Italy.

YOUNG COUG PITCHER STARS: Rusty Shellhorn, who struggled in brief action with WSU as a freshman this year, has completed an outstanding summer season in the Prospect League. Shellhorn led the loop with eight wins and 89 strikeouts, and he was third in earned run average at 1.45. He posted an 8-3 record and threw 68 1/3 innings in 18 games (nine starts) for the North Coast Knights of Lorain, Ohio.

Shellhorn's Cougar teammate Seth Harvey, pitching for the Bellingham Bells this summer, led the West Coast League with 11 saves. In 22 appearances, Harvey went 2-5 with a 3.29 ERA. Another Cougar, Kyle Johnson, led the WCL with 18 stolen bases and came in third in batting at .340 for Wenatchee. He played errorless ball in the outfield, and WSU teammate Kyle Buchanan had no errors behind the plate and threw out 10 of 19 would-be base stealers for Bend. Buchanan hit .261 in the WCL.

Meanwhile, in the pro ranks, Matt Way continues to dominate minor league hitters every bit as much as he dominated college hitters earlier this year at Washington State. Way is 2-1 with a 2.37 ERA in three starts since the Philadelphia Phillies promoted the fifth-round draft pick from Rookie-class ball to the low Class A South Atlantic League. Way has walked just one and fanned 25 in 19 innings with the Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws.

Josh Leyland, the slugging high school catcher who had signed a letter of intent to play college ball at WSU but opted instead to sign with the Oakland Athletics, is off to a rough start in the Rookie-class Arizona League. After his first seven pro games, Leyland is hitting .150 (3-for-20) with 11 strikeouts and no homers. Oakland drafted Leyland in the 16th round.

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