Wulff sees bright future; analyzes signees

PAUL WULFF looked and sounded like a man of conviction at the two recent Cougar alumni dinners on the west side of the state. He talked with enthusiasm about each member of his new recruiting class. He talked about the growth and leadership of the young guns already on the team. He said his team would be competitive this season, a bona fide bowl team in 2011 and a contender for the Roses the next.

Wulff didn't sound like a guy who has weathered slings and arrows for winning just one game last season and two the year before. "We've taken some bullets for a couple of years, but we're staying the course. It's going to happen."

He said the 2010 Cougs would be much improved and highly competitive. He isn't making predictions about wins and losses but says the team speed is dramatically improved. And more than anything, the discipline and the toughness are palpable.

"Without it, you cannot win. It's not something you turn on with a switch. It's developed in the weight room and you recruit it ... You can sense (the confidence) walking down the hall -- we're around a bunch of guys who think they're going to win 10 or 11 games."

The future "is very bright," he said. "I promise you that."

A big piece of that future was unveiled early this month when national letters of intent were signed. At recent dinner gatherings in Shelton and Seattle Wulff provided comments and video highlights on every member of the new class. The word "character" and the phrase "good student" were consistent themes.

Here's the complete run down from Wulff:

WR Isiah Barton, 6-1, 190 (Westchester/Fresno City College/Los Angeles)
Barton started his career as a walk-on at Fresno State in 2007, which means he only has two years of remaining eligibility. With that in mind, Wulff expects him to make an immediate impact in multiple areas. Citing his speed, which drew a discernible reaction from the crowd on his highlight tape, and toughness, Wulff said he will see time at wide receiver and as a kickoff returner. He said Barton also is quick enough that he can give the offense a different look by lining up in the backfield at times.

WR Blair Bomber, 5-9, 170 (Lynden/Lynden)
When it comes to Bomber, Wulff raved about his intangibles. "He's a little scrapper," he said. "He's going to make the others around him better … He's a tough, competitive sucker and will have some big hits on special teams. He has lots of moxie."

WR Bobby Ratliff, 6-1, 180 (Etiwanda/Etiwanda, Calif.)
Wulff feels Ratliff might be one of the most underrated recruits in the class. "He's a great find for us," he said. "He won't wow you with 4.4 (40-yard dash) speed, but he'll make all the catches … he has great ball skills." Wulff said he could play this fall.

WR Kristoff Williams, 6-2, 205 (Deer Valley/Antioch, Calif.)
Wulff noted that Williams is an interesting recruit as he has a black belt in Kaji Kempo and his father is an Army colonel. "What's deceiving is how fast he is," Wulff said. "He outruns people." Several clips of Williams outrunning players came against Pittsburg, which featured WSU signees Tracy Clark and Robert Jiles and Oregon-bound Erick Dargan. He played QB as well as receiver at Deer Valley.

WR Marquess Wilson, 6-3, 170 (Tulare Union/Tulare, Calif.)
Wilson's highlight tape featured him beating cornerback Tevin McDonald, a four-star UCLA signee, for multiple catches and a touchdown. "I imagine this is one of the most gifted kids we've signed at this position in a number of years," Wulff said. "The upside is there. He has a lot of athletic ability … he could have a special career." Wulff said he needs to work on his size and strength so likely is in line to redshirt this season.

WR Robert Jiles, 6-0, 185 (Pittsburg/Pittsburg, Calif.) A sure-handed receiver who might be best in the slot. Has breakaway speed and elusiveness. Wulff says he has excellent ball skills.

TE Aaron Dunn, 6-6, 235 (Mead/Spokane)
The Cougars' running game has been nearly as lackluster as the team's 3-22 record the last two seasons but Wulff said Dunn's blocking ability alone will help with that. He also noted that Dunn has "great hands" and expects him to be a factor in the passing game. "He's big, he's physical, he'll play this fall."

RB Devontae Butler-Booker, 5-11, 180 (Grant, Sacramento, Calif.)
The Cougars still are waiting to find out about Butler-Booker's academic situation. Wulff said if Butler-Booker doesn't qualify, he will delay enrollment until January. He said Butler-Booker is not a quick back, but can help the running game in other ways. "He gives us the opportunity to run a real power scheme if we want," Wulff said. "He's tough, he can run between the tackles – good player, good kid."

RB Rickey Galvin, 5-8, 175 (Berkeley, Berkeley, Calif.)
WSU has featured steady backs such as Dwight Tardy in recent years, but Wulff said he expects Galvin to add another element. "He can make people miss and run it by people," he said. Wulff said Galvin is likely to play this season.

QB Connor Halliday, 6-5, 185 (Ferris/Spokane)
WSU's best years have come with great quarterbacks at the helm, Wulff noted and now with Halliday in the fold alongside Jeff Tuel they have two young prototypes. "These are bona fide Pac-10 players who are going to win games, including bowl games." Wulff said Halliday "can make all the throws" and lauded his accuracy, arm strength and release.

OL David Gonzales, 6-6, 270 (Central West/Fresno College/Fresno, Calif.)
Wulff frequently talks about the foundation of the Cougars' streak of consecutive 10-win seasons from 2001-03. Those teams featured athletic, tall tackles in Calvin Armstrong and Sam Lightbody. Gonzales is cut from the same athletic cloth, Wulff said. He believes Gonzales might benefit from a redshirt season to "develop more of a nasty streak."

OL Wade Jacobson, 6-6, 310 (San Benito/Gavilan College/Hollister, Calif.)
Jacobson committed to WSU over offers from Arizona and Nevada, and Wulff expects him to compete for a starting position immediately at left tackle. He said that Jacobson is "tough and aggressive," which the offensive line needs. He noted that Jacobson bucked 150,000 bails of hay last summer.

OL John Fullington, 6-6, 270 (North Mason/Belfair)
Wulff felt the strongest position group in the Cougars' high school summer camp a year ago was the offensive line – and the best player in that group was Fullington. True freshmen rarely play on the offensive line and Wulff prefers to redshirt players when possible, but he said Fullington might see playing time this season. "He's clearly the best high school offensive line prospect I've seen in a number of years. He can have a special career." Fullington projects as a tackle.

OT/TE Jake Rodgers, 6-7, 245 (Shadle Park/Spokane)
Rodgers is listed as a tight end, but Wulff can see his frame holding 320 pounds, which would make a perfect offensive tackle. "He's physical and tough … I'm very excited about this guy – he and Fullington could be bookends some day."

S Deone Bucannon, 6-1, 180 (Vanden/Fairfield, Calif.)
Bucannon could be one of the Cougars' most significant recruits in this class, but that doesn't mean he will play immediately. Wulff said the "rangy" Bucannon would benefit from a redshirt season and that he feels the program's depth at safety will allow that to happen. "He runs well, is very physical, a big-time tackler."

S Tyrone Duckett, 6-0, 205 (Encinal/Alameda, Calif.)
Duckett played several positions in high school, including quarterback, but will enter WSU as a safety. Wulff said that could change for Duckett, who is known for his hard hits. "If he eats a lot, he'll be a linebacker," Wulff said. Both of his parents are ministers. Duckett is a team leader.

S/CB Matt Simmons, 6-0, 180 (Bishop Montgomery/Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.) The son of former WSU defensive back Randal Simmons, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 2008, Wulff praised the younger Simmons for his character. Wulff said Simmons is listed at cornerback for now, but likely will end up at safety. He said Simmons is another freshman the coaching staff can groom through a redshirt season.

CB Tracy Clark, 5-10, 175 (Pittsburg/Pittsburg, Calif.)
Pittsburg routinely produces Football Bowl Subdivision recruits and Wulff said the Cougars were "extremely fortunate" to sign Clark. Wulff has made it a recruiting priority to improve the program's speed and he said Clark will help with that. He also referred to Clark as a "hard-nosed kid" and expects him to compete for playing time right away.

CB Brandon Golden, 6-0, 190 (Charter Oak/Covina, Calif.)
When the highlights turned to Golden, Wulff quickly noted that Coug Great and NFL vet Jason David came from the same high school. Golden is much taller than David, but Wulff said he also is fast and could be a factor as a kickoff returner. "He's a legit 4.4 corner. He may redshirt, he may play right away."

CB Damante Horton, 5-10, 175 (Oakland/Oakland, Calif.)
Horton's highlight tape, featuring multiple big hits, drew the most vocal reaction from Cougar partisans at both dinners. Wulff said he likes that trait and feels Horton "was one of the best cornerbacks on the West Coast" in the 2010 recruiting cycle. He's physical and fast. One spectator asked if Horton compares with former WSU standout Marcus Trufant. Wulff said Horton "probably has a higher value coming in," but could not promise that his career would match Trufant's.

LB C.J. Mizell, 6-3, 210 (Leon/Tallahassee, Fla.)
Mizell was the most surprising name on the Cougars' signing-day list in years. Wulff said Cougar coaches and the WSU community made an impact on Mizell during his official visit. "He never had been on a plane until he visited Pullman," Wulff said. "He loved the people." Wulff noted that Mizell signed with Florida State in 2009 but did not qualify, and also had offers from Florida and Georgia. Wulff said Mizell is the caliber of recruit who will make an immediate impact. He said Mizell is fully qualified now. "I envision him playing this fall … he's a heck of a player."

LB/RB Eric Oertel, 6-1, 185 (Lutheran/Racine, Wisc.)
Oertel is a good enough athlete that Wulff said he could play running back or even wide receiver for the Cougars, but probably will end up at linebacker. Wulff repeatedly praised his character, while adding that several programs closer to Oertel's home -- Cincinnati, Iowa State and Wisconsin -- offered him scholarships after he committed to WSU. Wulff said Oertel never wavered.

DT Kalafitoni Pole, 6-2, 275 (James Logan/Union City, Calif.)
Pole committed to the Cougars shortly before signing day, and while Wulff didn't mention redshirting in his evaluation, it was implied. He said Pole has work to do on the technical side, but "there's no denying his size and speed." Pole's decision to go crimson is going to be a boon to the Pullman Greyhounds too; the family is moving to Pullman and Pole's little brother is a 6-3, 300-pound high school sophomore.

DL Brandon Rankin, 6-5, 260 (West Brunswick/Butte College/Shallotte, N.C.)
The Northern California Conference Defensive Player of the Year after registering 19 tackles-for-loss and 24 sacks in 2008, he was signed in 2009 but delayed enrollment until January as he completed his associate's degree. Rankin was expected to play defensive end, but Wulff said he might move inside as he already has added muscle since arriving on campus. His highlight tape drew ohhs and ahhs from the faithful. He reminds Wulff of 1998 WSU Rose Bowl great Dorian Boose.

DE Xavier Cooper, 6-4, 265 (Wilson/Tacoma)
The WSU coaching staff pursued Cooper for months even though it is unknown whether he will be able to qualify academically. Wulff said Cooper has made progress in the classroom, but still has work to do. Even so, Wulff raved about his athleticism and speed. "In two to three years he has a chance to be a very special player."

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