Signing day has officially come and gone, and it was quite the day for WSU. 20 high school seniors were signed by the Cougars, with a couple of JC players mixed in for good measure. Scholarships were also awarded to three standout Cougars from the roster last year - clutchiest kicker Nico Grasu, linebacker Myron Beck and EWU-transfer-slash-wideout Jeffrey Solomon.
This is the first time we're doing the CougCenter Elite Eight. The eight players that I feel have the most potential going forward for Washington State. That doesn't necessarily mean they will start and tear down walls right away. Some may be long-term projects. Some are only a year or so away. Some are ready to put a jersey on and contribute at this moment.
Let me first say that it wasn't easy selecting the top eight recruits from this class. That's a very good thing. We've pulled in more quality and quantity with this class than we have in quite some time. Recruiting rankings are never very reliable, but for a school that gets perennially ranked at the bottom, WSU finally turned some heads in the first full class under Paul Wulff. The Cougars finished 7th in the Scout.com rankings of the conference - ahead of two bowl teams, Arizona and Oregon State. Again, meaningless, but fun nonetheless.
What really matters, and what I think we can take away from NLI day 2009, is that we have a very competent staff at the helm of our program. These guys have been tireless in their recruiting efforts. It's been well documented that they don't let up, work year-round and strive to keep the commitments we already have in place. That's important when you suffer, oh, let's say a 2-11 season (but guess who was worse!). The insane thing about this class is that it was reeled in on the heels of the worst Cougar season in recent memory. If that's the case, just think what'll happen when these guys start winning games.
I must admit I've never been a huge fan of signing day. For me it was all bark and no bite, and not really a whole lot of fun to bet on the futures of 17 and 18 year old kids. After all, there's a whole lot of room for error. But one of the things I love about doing the blog is that it constantly rejuvenates my interest in all things Crimson. When Nuss dropped the awesome content bomb on you guys today, I couldn't help but pour through all the info. Really amazing stuff. Brought back my excitement about signing day. It brought back a lot of my enthusiasm about Cougar football at a time where it's often the furthest thing from my mind (basketball season).
And the fact of the matter is that at least some of these young kids will be the future of the Cougar program. They have to be. Sure, some will flunk out, some will be busts. But a few will be diamonds in the rough, a few will rewrite records, a few will start numerous games and leave to a standing O on senior day.
Here's hoping we have quite a few of those folks in this class.
So, without further ado, the CougCenter Elite Eight for 2009. Note that these aren't in any particular order or ranking, alphabetical or otherwise.
[Oh, and don't forget to vote for COTY - tonight is your last chance]
Jeff Tuel, QB - Tuel was intriguing enough when he first committed to WSU. That's because we locked him up before he had even thrown a pass at the varsity level. That's what happens when you back up Beau Sweeney in high school, a guy who currently resides on the California roster. Tuel went from mystery man to, well, the man this season, throwing for 1,1714 and rushing for 674. ESPN called him a good fit for a spread offense - and even though that's not technically what we run, he's a perfect fit as a duel threat for Wulff's system. My pick for QB of the future.
Geno Simone, WR - The most highly regarded in-state commit comes from Simone, who should be able to fit right in with Anderson, Karstetter and the rest of our receiving corps. Worst case scenario for next year is that he redshirts, which really isn't the end of the world, and benefits our program greatly in the long term. However, if he can see the field, I think he will have an impact. You'll hear a lot this year from the recruiting services about members of our class being undersized. Screw that - Simone has great hands and a keen ability to get open. He'll be a great addition no matter how big he ends up to be.
Brandon Rankin, DE - This is a huge find, a four-star JC player who is ready to go right now at a key position. Except he isn't. The feeling is that Rankin will grayshirt and more likely be available for 2010 because of academic issues. That's OK - it's not like we're playing for a conference title this year, and he'll still have 2 years to play 2 seasons beyond that. Cheer Rankin on in the classroom, because it's the only real concern with his commitment.
Darren Markle, LB - Markle is the classic underrated player from a small market. One that would earn a four or five star ranking if his commitment was to a school like USC or Washington. Replacing Greg Trent won't be easy, and Markle goes a long way to fill the linebacker void we'll have in the future. All of the recruiting services not only evaluated Markle, but gave him medium to high marks. A nice find, especially to steal a kid from Meridian away from the Gem state's powerhouse, Boise State.
Nolan Washington, CB - A skilled corner who also played quarterback in high school (we have quite a few of those guys in this class). It would have been tempting to throw Casey Locker on this list, especially to annoy the Husky fans, but Washington is the defensive back most likely to have an immediate impact on the field. Coach Rassmussen listed him as one of the freshmen most likely to earn some PT right off the bat. When this team finally learns how to stop the run, we'll need guys like Washington to protect passes over the top.
Travis Long, DL/TE - Wulff has made it a priority to get in-state guys. Even more important, at least in my opinion, is making a wall around Eastern Washington. Spokane and the Tri-Cities have shown the potential to produce some great high school players, and as far as I'm concerned I don't want a single one of them heading to Montlake. Long is one of those players, from Gonzaga Prep in Spokane. Scout.com has him listed at TE, but he's better served (and more likely will be) playing on the defensive line in some capacity. He can be ready to go in 2009, and we'll certainly need him for some depth. A standout in basketball, as well.
Johnny Forzani, WR - My dark horse in the class. Although, Forzani is a lot of people's sleeper, so I'm not being completely original here. He's an exceptional athlete and a guy that flew under the radar simply because he's from north of the border. Forzani has three years to play three, so no redshirt here. If nothing else, we'll see him as a reserve this season, and if he adapts quickly to Wulff's system he could be a surprise contributor for next year's club. I'm pretty high on Forzani - he has all the physical and mental tools to succeed in Pullman. He's also quite the basketball player - just don't expect him to suit up for Tony. That's not because of his talent level, it's simply because we become very deep at guard next season, and two-sport players rarely pan out with Bennett Ball (remember Cody Boyd, anyone?).
Andre Barrington, DB/LB - This recruiting class really bolsters the defensive backfield, and Barrington is another guy the coaches feel can contribute very soon. Position-wise he is very versatile; playing D-back in high school but projecting to a linebacker in college. Either way he'll help out. ESPN says he could benefit from a redshirt season, I'm not so sure. We'll find out for sure when he finally gets to practice for the team, but he should be a huge help for both our pass and our run protection. Question isn't so much if, but when, he'll contribute. He's another basketball player. Don't get too excited.
We'll revisit these Elite Eight lists from year to year. That's right - unlike certain analysts at the Worldwide Leader in Sports, I hold myself accountable for my predictions.
For the sake of both the team and my own credibility, let's hope I'm right about these eight.