Well, this one sure came out of nowhere. Eric Oertel, a 6-foot-2/195-pound athlete out of Racine, Wis., became the 16th known verbal commitment to the WSU class of 2010 last night, as first reported by his local paper. Oertel was so under the radar that it appeared Scout.com had to hastily create a profile page for him when news of his commitment broke, and only Rivals appeared to even have him on WSU's radar.
One reason he probably flew under the radar is that he's from Wisconsin; every other current commit is from Washington or California. (The connection, apparently, is linebackers coach Travis Niekamp, a Wisconsin native.) Additionally, he's from a tiny private Lutheran school -- basically the equivalent to an A or B school in Washington, although he's in a fairly good sized town (about the size of Tacoma or Spokane).
Another reason he probably eluded notice is because despite some of his gaudy rushing numbers -- he reportedly is the leading rusher in the state -- he's not very highly thought of as a running back prospect. Rivals has him as a two-star recruit, Scouts, Inc. has him as a one-star recruit (with a score of 64), and Scout.com hasn't even evaluated him.
From Scouts, Inc.:
Oertel has the size for the running back position at the major level of competition however his quickness and playing speed must improve as he enters the collegiate level of play. This is a tough productive guy who lines up at the deep setback position; lacks good quickness into the hole or a burst at the 2nd level of defense. Shows good vision but lacks wiggle or a change of pace move. ... Although we like Oertel's toughness he does not project high at the BCS level of play, perhaps a lower level of competition can take advantage of his skills. Could get a look at linebacker.
And there's the rub. They were evaluating him as a running back prospect, and from looking at the following two videos from his junior year, he is not a Pac-10-level running back. However, try to picture his straightline speed on defense or special teams, and you can see where the coaching staff sees potential (he's No. 21 in both videos, from the team in white in the second video):
What might have ultimately sold the Cougs on him is what kind of person he is. Oertel's coach, Scott Smith, told Cougfan.com -- which did a great job quickly putting together this story in the wake of Oertel's commitment -- that Oertel is "cut, his work ethic is unbelievable and his attitude is just fantastic. When he comes to Washington State he's going to be a pleasant surprise for the coaches and for the fans. If you have a son, you'd want him to be exactly like this kid."
Got an example, coach?
"He's paying half of his own (tuition) by bagging groceries," said Smith. "He's got school and then a lot of times he has work so he doesn't get home until 10-10:30 at night. That's the kind of kid he is."
Well, OK then.
In that same Cougfan story, Smith said Wisconsin is now coming hard after Oertel, which might lead some to believe that we got a kid that's actually better than his recruiting service rankings. While that might very well be true, I wouldn't reach that conclusion off of Wisconsin's recruitment.
The Badgers have had a chance to recruit Oertel all along, and although he never went to their camp, they've had plenty of time to evaluate him. My purely speculative guess is that they're attempting to save a little face in their home state by making it look like they're putting on a full press for a guy they don't really want. If he had gone to one of the other places that reportedly offered him a scholarship -- North Dakota, North Dakota State, Illinois State -- that's not a big deal. But to lose a Wisconsin kid to a Pac-10 school? A kid you didn't even recruit? That looks bad.
Trust me -- if Brett Bielema thought Oertel was all that, it never would have gotten this far without Wisconsin putting the full court press a lot earlier.
Oertel might prove to be a great find for the Cougs, but he doesn't seem like the immediate contributor type. If he's as heady as everyone says he is and is faster now than he looks on that junior year video, there's a chance he could play right away on special teams. But that would seem to the upside in terms of contribution next year.
But then again, who knows? Raise your hand if you thought a two-star running back named Louis Bland would start half of his true freshman year at outside linebacker? That's what I thought.