Seen & Heard 1/23

WITH NFL TALENT guru Mel Kiper's prediction that two Cougars -- cornerback <b>Marcus Trufant</b> and defensive tackle <b>Rien Long</b> -- will be taken among the first 15 picks in April's draft, a thought occurred to me: WSU's 1999 recruiting class, which included Trufant and Long, was downright incredible.

Let me count the ways.

Three of that group's JC transfers --- linebacker Curtis Holden (Saints) and receivers Milton Wynn (Colts) and Marcus Williams (Raiders) --- are all in the NFL today. And a fourth, defensive end Melvin Camarena contributed mightily in his two seasons on the Palouse.

But get this: Besides Trufant and Long, nine members of the class (yes, 9) started for the Cougars at some point this past season --- and eight of them, save for graduating Collin Henderson, will be back in action for 2003: OLs Billy Knotts, Sam Lightbody, Josh Parrish, DTs Jeremey Williams and Tai Tupai, DE Isaac Brown and linebackers Al Genatone and Ira Davis.

In addition, another member of the class -- quarterback Matt Kegel -- figures to step to center stage in 2003 in place of Jason Gesser.

In fact, the class was so deep that three of its most-touted members left the program and no one really blinked: running back Deon Burnett who departed for UNLV after starting as a true freshman and sophomore at WSU; linebacker Melvin "Champ" Simmons, a part-time starter who's now knocking heads at USC; and tight end Josh Shavies who played considerably as a true freshman, got into Mike Price's dog house, left, and then returned in 2002 as a back up defensive tackle.

Of the 17 prep players in the class, only two -- linebacker Kason Love and receiver Forrest Lawson --- contributed nothing to the Cougar cause. Love had academic troubles and went to a JC before playing a year at Minnesota. Lawson, from Tacoma, decided to pursue professional baseball.

AS MUCH AS I'D LIKE to keep my mouth shut on this, I'm compelled to speak out. The Cougar Nation owes Mike Price an apology for the bashing he's taken over his move to Alabama.

A half-dozen well-placed sources who requested anonymity have told CF.C in the last three weeks that Price had no intention of leaving Pullman, but that he was given no indication from Athletic Director Jim Sterk that he even cared --- an intransigence stemming from the arrogant belief that Price, a lifelong Cougar, would never leave WSU. Former Cougar assistant coach Chris Ball even went on the record this week with a similar scenario in a column by the Seattle P-I's Jim Moore.

In short, our sources said, that while Kentucky, Wyoming, UCLA and Alabama were all burning up Price's phone lines in a fairly public manner, Sterk didn't check in with Price to gauge his thinking. UCLA came charging very hard with what has been described as a remarkable offer. Price turned them down --- twice --- but sought out Sterk to talk about it all in an effort to improve the pay and benefits of his assistant coaches, the sources said.

Sterk, they added, had been playing the role of penny-pincher around the football program since he arrived on campus, refusing to grant standard industry perks to Price's assistants --- perks that Price often ended up paying for out of his own pocket.

With that as a backdrop, Price went to Sterk to talk about the serious overtures he (Price) was receiving and the fact he'd had no indication whatsoever that WSU wanted to make sure he stayed put.

Price was looking for an indication that his assistants would be treated better and that his budget --- already lowest among all Pac-10 and Big Ten schools --- would quit being nibbled away.

Said once source, "If either Sterk or (Lane) Rawlins had told him, 'we can't match what Alabama is offering but we really want to keep you and appreciate everything you've done', he would have stayed.'"

Said another, "After Alabama made the formal offer, Sterk should have at least said give us 24 hours to think through some options. You know, maybe make Price an associate AD or something. But there was nothing."

Price did not return CF.C's call to talk about the matter, and an e-mail invitation for Sterk to comment was declined.

I find it all a sad end to the Cougar career of a great guy.

BE SURE TO TURN ON your television on a little early come Super Bowl Sunday. It'll be your last chance to see Jason Gesser throwing passes as a Washington State Cougar. He'll be in action on Fox Sports at 9:30 am PT as part of the Capital One College Football All-Star Challenge --- a skills competition matching the nation's best players at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Gesser will be joined by a cast of collegiate standouts, including Rex Grossman and Taylor Jacobs of Florida, Brad Banks of Iowa, Charles Rogers of Michigan State, and Lee Suggs of Virginia Tech.

Gesser isn't the only Cougar making an all-star appearance this winter. Marcus Trufant, considered the second-best cornerback in the upcoming NFL draft, was in the Senior Bowl this past weekend, and guard Derrick Roche took part in the East-West Shrine game the week before. This Saturday you can catch receiver Mike Bush in the Rotary Gridiron Classic and on Feb. 1 receiver Jerome Riley will be making hay in the Hula Bowl.

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