First of all, there's Jason Gesser. He's a recruiting wunderkind. If memory serves, you can count one finger the number of kids he's hosted on official recruiting trips who haven't ended up signing with the Cougars. Jason embodies the Cougar spirit and the family feel that makes Pullman special.
So it's no coincidence that two of the most highly touted members of WSU's newest class of recruits ---- JC offensive lineman Keola Loo and defensive tackle Tolifil Liufau --- happen to hail from Jason's prep alma mater, St. Louis High in Honolulu.
No small feat in getting both of them to Pullman is the fact both were smitten with the notion of playing for the hometown University of Hawaii. Loo, who could start at center for the Cougars this season, signed with the 'Bows out of high school before academics rerouted him to Orange Coast JC. And Liufau was considered by some to be a lean to UH as recently as ten days ago.
Another member of the new Cougar class is a direct descendent of the program's "family," both literally and figuratively --- DB Husain Abdullah. He's the brother of Cougar junior-to-be Hamza Abdullah and a former Pomona High teammate of Cougar redshirt freshman Odell Howard.
For awhile there it looked like Kansas or Arizona State would nab Husain, the CIF Division 9 defensive player of the year and one of PacWestFootball.com's top DB prospects in the West. But then came his official trip to Pullman last weekend. Said Husain, "Basically from the second I got to Washington State to the second I left, everything was perfect. The players really took me in. When I left there, I knew it was the place for me."
And get this. Offensive lineman Bobby Byrd of Oceanside (Calif.) High apparently walked into the WSU football offices unannounced on an unofficial trip last fall and simply declared that this place felt like home.
Aw, that family atmosphere. Ya gotta love it.
Over the last several years I've heard it over and over. And this year it seemed to reach downright deafening proportions.
Perhaps the best example of all is found in the two kids in this new class from Clover Park High south of Tacoma. Dave Pritchard, a great teammate of mine on WSU's 1981 Holiday Bowl club, is as assistant coach at Clover Park. He made sure Cougar coaches were fully aware of two Clover Park diamonds in the rough that were passing under the major college radar screens.
So today, a pair of big, athletic kids who will be no doubt be "coached up" into major college ball players are in the Cougar family: Linebacker Paul Stevens (6-4, 225) and defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua (6-7, 240). By the way, it's pronounced Roe-potti Pitoe-two-ah.
The family affair on Planet Coug also took a unique turn this recruiting season in that Stevens and Pitoitua aren't the only twosome from the same school in the class. Remarkably, there are two other pairs from the same school --- Keola Loo and Patrick Afif from Orange Coast JC, and very promising youngsters Christian Bass and Reshawn Bobo from Canyon Springs High in Moreno Valley, Calif.
Bill Doba says receiver Scott Selby of Castle Rock, Wash., likely will be the only member of the class who will grayshirt, delaying enrollment until January 2004.
Three members of the class have yet to secure the academic side of the equation: Loo and JC back Chris Bruhn each have some classwork to wrap up before August, but are basically considered locks to get it done. Prep defensive tackle Tolifil Liufau doesn't have a qualifying SAT score and may be forced to go the JC route, at which time the Cougars would have to recruit him all over again in two years --- a scenario that has rarely, save for Bruhn, resulted in the Cougars getting their man back.
The single-biggest star of the class may be Bobby Byrd. Coach Doba raved about him yesterday, noting that counterparts at Michigan were envious of the Cougars' big new O-lineman (Byrd stands 6-6, tips in at about 300 and is very agile).
In terms of instant impact guys, Coach Doba has this to say about his new class: "We have a pretty good bunch back (from last year), so if they are starting, they are pretty good. The junior college kids might have a chance at the start of fall ball. Maybe by mid-season a couple of the freshmen could be ready to contribute."
Talk about fortuitous. I saw a story the other day about DeMar Baisy, the linebacker/end from Seattle's Rainier Beach High who verbally committed to WSU last recruiting season and then switched to Washington about ten days before signing day. His late defection forced Cougar coaches to scramble and they come up with a kid who, it turns out, is shaping up to be one fine get for the Cougars: Odell Howard, a scout team terror this past season. Mike Price said a year ago that Howard was a "trade up" for the Cougars. And, it turns out, in more ways than one --- Baisy never qualified academically and now is playing JC ball.
THE CANADIAN CONNECTION
As long-time Cougar watchers know, the recruiting hunting grounds for WSU north of the border are not bountiful but usually fruitful. Rob Meier, Rueben Mayes, Brian Forde, Don Sweet, Ted Gerela, Glenn "Danny Greene is now Sterile" Harper, and the Pimiskern brothers are among the Canadians who have made big-time hay at Ol' Wazzu over the years. That pipeline of talent is continuing in a big way.
With the signing yesterday of Jon Conlin of Vancouver Prep --- an All-Canada linebacker/end considered the finest player in all of British Columbia --- the Cougars now have three guys on defense from Canada who figure to knock some serious heads before all is said and done. DE Adam Braidwood of Delta, B.C., played this past as a true freshman and looked awesome, and linebacker Aaron Wagner of Lethbridge, Alberta, a kid who easily could have started this past season, will be back in Pullman in August after completing his Mormon mission.
ONE-LINER OF THE WEEK
Said Coach Doba when asked to size up his first recruiting class: "They're the biggest, strongest and fastest recruiting class I've ever signed at Washington State," he said, noting that since it's his first as head coach, it's also "my slowest, weakest and smallest class."