Does talent flow at EWU hint at WSU's future?

THE OLD COACHING adage is that the head man always looks a helluva lot smarter when he's got better athletes on his side of the field. If you want to know why the Cougs changed football coaches two years ago, a look at the talent coming out of Eastern Washington right now -- vs. WSU -- speaks volumes.

Especially so because Eastern Washington is an FCS school (formerly Division I-AA) playing in the Big Sky Conference.

NFL scouts are intimating that the No. 1 player they're eyeing from the Evergreen State this year hails from little ol' EWU, not Washington State or Washington.

In fact, were it not for a season-ending injury that shelved star receiver Aaron Boyce, EWU would have three times as many players in this month's East-West Shrine Game as either WSU or UW. As it is, there will be two Eagles -- tight end Nathan Overbay and quarterback Natt Nichols -- in the annual all-star game vs. one each for the Cougars and Huskies.

From WSU, the East-West honoree is center Kenny Alfred. He also figures to be the lone Cougar senior the NFL will draft or sign as a free agent this spring. Last year, a mere two graduating Cougs got an NFL tryout. As noted in a CF.C commentary I did this past fall, the best barometer of a school's talent level is the number of players drafted by, or signing free agent contracts with, NFL teams.

For a Pac-10 school to produce just three in two years is an indictment of towering proportions. You want to know why Wulff was brought in as head coach? Because WSU's recruiting success in the years prior to his arrival had fallen through the floor. Look up the word attrition in the dictionary and you'll find a picture of WSU's 2004, '05 '06 and '07 recruiting classes.

IF YOU LOOK at what WSU typically has produced for the NFL over the years, you'll find that every Cougar coach going back to Jim Walden inherited roughly 15 NFL-worthy players in his first two seasons on the job. Wulff inherited three players talented enough to attract a shot at the NFL in his first two seasons.

Now look at what Wulff left for his successor at EWU.

First and foremost is Overbay, who is widely viewed as the top player from a Washington-based school on NFL scouts' radar when the draft commences in April.

Wulff found Overbay in Chehalis where he was playing receiver and being ignored by the Pac-10 schools and recruiting services.

Wulff and staff also snagged junior linebacker J.C. Sherritt, a Pullman product, for EWU a few classes ago. All he did this year was capture unanimous first-team FCS All-America honors.

There have been three players from Eastern in its history to be unanimous selections by all five post-season All-America teams -- Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Sports Network, College Sporting News and the Walter Camp Football Foundation -- and Wulff recruited two of them (Sherritt and former FCS Defensive Player of the Year Greg Peach).

In all, Wulff produced 23 Division IA (FCS) All-Americans in his eight years as head man at EWU.

And get this -- eight members of Wulff's 2005 EWU team, including NFL All-Pro tackle Michael Roos, were on NFL or CFL rosters when the fall began.

IN ADDITION TO Sherritt, three other 2009 EWU players recruited by Wulff -- Overbay, Nichols and speedy third-year sophomore running back Taiwan Jones -- received FCS All-America recognition in the just-concluded season.

Nichols, by the way, finished his career ranked in the top 10 all-time nationally in all three NCAA Football Championship Subdivision categories -- career passing, total offense and touchdown passes.

Now, before any of you nattering nabobs start bellowing that standout FCS players generally aren't good enough to be top-tier Pac-10 players, let me say this: Generally speaking, that's correct. But my point is this: Wulff knows how to find, evaluate, land and develop talent. What he did at EWU he's now doing at WSU, except the bodies are a little bigger, a little faster. It's all relative, you see, to the pond you're swimming in.

Here's another point I'd like to make: I watched, up close and personal, the vast majority of snaps EWU took while Paul was head coach there. I know EWU. And I know WSU. And I can tell you right now that the 2008 Eastern team that Paul left had 14 players that would have started on the 2008 team Paul inherited at WSU.

BOTTOM LINE, IF YOU WANT to know how the guys listed on Washington State's 2010 commit list are going to fare down the road, you only need to look at Wulff's track record at Eastern for a hint.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.

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