Rating the new class

YOU CAN START the hand-wringing now, if you like, because facts are facts: When all is said and done on the 2003 recruiting wars, WSU's class will be ranked dead last in the Pac-10 -- by a hefty margin, too. And you know what? That's just going to be fine.

Why?

Because the Cougars went about this recruiting year the same way they have over the last several: Looking for kids with great wheels and good physiques.

And by that measure, they've done just fine.

"I like the players the Cougars have brought in and think the class of offensive linemen is especially strong," says Greg Biggins of PacWestFootball.com. "I think Coach Price's departure has definitely hurt and things were kind of at a standstill for a few weeks, losing all the momentum they had from their great season."

Going into letter of intent signing day Wednesday, the Cougars have verbal commitments from 12 high school players, plus signed paperwork from two JC linemen. In addition, the class will include three grayshirts from last year's group of signees, plus linebacker Aaron Wager, who returns to Pullman after a two-year Mormon mission.

The Cougars appear to have fulfilled their biggest priorities coming into the season: four offensive linemen and five DB/WR types.

They also came out smelling like a rose when another priority developed at the last minute with grayshirt QB Carl Bonnell's defection to Washington. WSU lured Alex Brink -- the most prolific passer in Oregon prep history -- away from Boise State, where he had verbally committed, and also nabbed Mount Vernon's Kyle Kendrick, an accomplished QB who also will pitch and play shortstop for the Cougar baseball team.

Brink has grown an inch, to 6-3, and gained 15 pounds, to 190, since August. He's agile, strong-armed and steeped in the intricacies of the spread offense because that's what he ran at Sheldon High in Eugene.

The Cougars' haul of offensive linemen appears as strong as any in the nation with two prep standouts from California -- Russell Foster and Bobby Byrd -- and a pair of stars from Orange Coast JC in Patrick Afif and Keola Loo.

Another big name on the list is Christian Bass, a WR/DB from Moreno Valley, Calif., who runs the 40 in 4.3 seconds. He's 6-3, 190 and "tested off the charts" at one of the Nike camps last summer.

While a surprise or two could happen late today or Wednesday when national letters of intent are signed, the Cougar class headed into the final 24 hours without landing two bon-a-fide prep defensive tackles -- something that was on Bill Doba's wish list. Keep an eye posted on CF.C's front page, though, as the grapevine is starting to churn in this regard. Jon Conlin, a 6-3, 240-pounder from Vancouver, B.C., College Prep and Aaron Johnson, a 6-5, 245-pounder from Fairfield, Calif., could develop into DTs but both are projected as defensive ends. The Cougars narrowly missed out on one of the nation's top DT prospect, Wilson Afoa of St. Louis High in Honolulu, who said he agnonized over choosing Washington rather than WSU.

One national network currently ranks the Cougar class as tenth in the Pac-10 and 72nd in the nation, just ahead of UNLV and mighty Louisiana-Lafayette.

"I tend not to put a whole lot of stock in the rating systems," says CF.C recruiting guru Jack Evans. "Just look at Marcus Trufant and Rien Long -- they'll both be taken in the first round of the NFL draft in April and four years ago no one knew who the heck they were. WSU really knows what they're after in terms of size, speed and character. This class will be just fine, but it's unconventional for the national analysts because it's not a large class, plus there are four guys -- the grayshirts and Aaron Wagner -- who they're not factoring into their evaluations."

Moreover, says Biggins, look for the Cougars to get a big bounce next recruiting season when the true benefits of the Rose Bowl berth will be felt. "We always say the year after you have the big season is when recruiting takes a nice bump up."

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