Many updates as of 4/19/05

Several new updates, from the fan site and Spokesman. First some recruiting news, and then some stories from the Spokesman.

Michael Willis has finally been approved and will be competing for playing time this fall. He’s a monster talent, huge and athletic. Take a look at this:

THE LAST HURDLE in the path of Cougar Michael Willis has been cleared, the strong safety having received the SAT Board and NCAA’s blessing. The phenom will suit up in the crimson and gray beginning with fall camp and the Tacoma native is in line to do the rarest of rare — contend for a starting position as a true freshman.

And even should Willis (6-3, 215) not start on Opening Day, he’ll add much needed quality depth to the position. Right now, the Cougars rotation at the safety positions figures to be Eric Frampton, Husain Abdullah, JC transfer DeWayne Patterson and true cornerback Omowale Dada, who is taking turns at safety for depth reasons.

MICHAEL WILLIS learned he had passed the SAT — again — on April 7. There is still paperwork to complete, but Willis, who is taking classes at WSU and has remained 100 percent committed to the Cougs from Day One, will finally be allowed to suit up for Wazzu later this summer when fall camp opens.”I signed my name on the dotted line,” Willis told CF.C previously, referencing his 2004 letter of intent to WSU. “I’m a man of my word. Plus, they stuck with me through a lot of stuff.”Willis was asked to take the test again at the request of the SAT Board, who had red flagged his passing score at the end of 2004.

Note: The NCAA Clearinghouse was not the impediment in this case, it was the SAT Board. It’s been a long journey to get to this point. Willis did not achieve a qualifying test score in time to enroll at WSU in the fall of ’04. He spent the fall months working his tail off getting his academic house in order. And when Willis took the test in December, he prepared with a tutor and studied for the SAT itself, not just the content.Willis achieved such a high score, the SAT board questioned it. For Willis, an intelligent and thoughtful young man, the difference in preparation was like finding a key to a locked door. And after he blew it off its hinges, the powers that be partially closed it again.

Because the SAT board would not initially certify his score, Willis was ineligible to receive scholarship assistance from Washington State and was forced to pay his own way this term. As noted, there is still paperwork to complete but Willis will be wearing the crimson and gray and laying the hat out on the Palouse later this summer.

ITS A RARE PLAYER who can, as a true freshman, sit atop veteran upperclassmen on the depth chart. Rarer still, is a true freshman who can start. Safety is not a position that lends itself to early playing time. But Willis is such a player.There will undoubtedly be some rust to shake off, Willis hasn’t played since the 2003 season. But it is expected Willis will quickly return to the form — and beyond — that made him the Cougs No. 1 target during the 2004 recruiting wars.Another salient point has come out of this. Some players who have difficulty in achieving a qualifying SAT score can make quantum leaps with the proper help — whether that be a tutor or other assistance.Studying for the SAT itself, in addition to the subject matter, can make a world of difference and did so in the case of Willis. Of course, it may take an interminably long time for the SAT board to certify such improvement.

And the bottom line here is this — Willis is a player who bleeds crimson and gray and possesses uncommon talent..a player who has now been granted final clearance to embark on his career at Washington State. And that’s something worth celebrating.

One quick note is the Cougs had their “big 4” recruits in for the spring game and Junior day – Jake Locker of Ferndale, all-state QB who has every Pac-10 school drooling; Skylar Jessen, a RB from Mead who has a ton of interest from all over the country (already offered by the likes of BC); Ryan Tolar, monster O-lineman from Pasco; and Keith Rosenberg, a do-everything WR/RB from Bellevue. The first of the stories about this group, Locker, had a good visit and really hit it off with Rosie. Take a look:

ONE OF THE top recruits in the state of Washington — Ferndale’s Jake Locker — was in Pullman for the WSU junior day this weekend . The All-state performer had a jammed-packed travel weekend, visiting two schools in two states over two days. The weekend shuffled his leaders list.

The highly sought quarterback and WSU coach Timm Rosenbach hit it off this weekend on Locker’s trip to Pullman.”It was nice to be able to visit with the coaches,” said Locker (6-2, 210). “I spent quite a bit of time with coach Rosenbach and he was awesome. I really liked him. So it was a good time.”

Headed into the weekend, Locker had the UW slightly ahead of Washington State, Oregon, Cal and Oregon State, saying the UW was the only school he had a chance to visit as of yet. His trip to Washington State — and his trip to Oregon — changed things up a bit. But neither visit was enough to make WSU or UO his new leader.

“Everybody is now pretty even,” said Locker. “Its just a matter of being able to go and look at each one. Its going to be a very tough decision when it comes time. Being able to go out and meet the coaches and check out everything makes it a lot different.”

Before heading to the Palouse, Locker was down in the Beaver state on Friday. He had planned on traveling to both the campuses at Oregon State and UO but the way the weekend unfolded, he only was able to visit Eugene. He came away impressed with the faculties.

“The coaches were all really nice and the facilities were amazing,” said Locker.

Of his Washington State junior day experience, Locker said the time spent with the coaches, the spring game and the campus at WSU were among the highlights that stood out for him.”It was very good,” he said. “I liked it a lot.”Locker is also a top baseball prospect and plans on choosing between the two sports later this summer. If it’s football, he wants to have the decision made on where he’ll be headed to college before his senior season begins.”Over these next couple months, it will just be who I start to feel really comfortable with — who I want to spend the majority of the next four years of my life around,” he said.Locker, a very strong Christian, said his trips will play a big role — visiting with the coaches and taking in the campus environment will be important in helping him make the call.

ALTHOUGH LOCKER ALSO seemingly has the skills to play defensive back at the next level, virtually every school is recruiting him to run the show on offense, including Washington State. Athleticism and arm strength set him apart as his ability to accurately throw on the move or wing it deep is uncommon.Over his high school career, Locker has made a habit of making plays with both his arm and his feet — as well as his football savvy. In a run-oriented offense, he threw for 1,314 yards and 16 TDs, while rushing for another 987 yards and 15 scores in 2004. He had a hand in all Ferndale’s scoring in the state 3A title game against Bellevue, running for over 150 yards and 3 TDs — while passing for another score in a thrilling 31-28 setback to the Wolverines.Academically, Locker carries a 3.8 GPA. He is considering a major in Architecture or possibly Communication.

Spokesman – Story #1: Recap of spring:

PULLMAN – There were no highlight-reel runs or offensive fireworks for the 1,500 fans or so who filed into Martin Stadium for the final day of Washington State’s spring football session.
Unlike the first two scrimmages this year, defense found a way to control much of Saturday’s scrimmage, formerly called the Crimson and Gray game. And while that pleased head coach Bill Doba, he exited the spring session realizing that his team still has a ways to go before it’s ready for the season’s opening kickoff on Sept. 1 against Idaho.

“You never get everything accomplished. But we got quite a bit done, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think there’s talent. But when you go against each other, either our defense isn’t very good and the offense is good or vice versa. It just depends on the day. But we’ll find out against Idaho.”

As Doba had planned, the final scrimmage bore a striking resemblance to the earlier versions in format if not in the results. First, second and third units took turns on the field with no set teams aligned against one another.

For the second consecutive Saturday, the Cougars were able to work on a four-minute, kill-the-clock drill as well as a two-minute drill. And WSU capped off the session with multiple overtime periods, with the defense having its best day of the spring coming out victorious in just about every one of those drills.

“We made some mistakes, but I think we played with a lot of emotion today,” said senior defensive end Adam Braidwood, who totaled four sacks in the scrimmage. “We proved we can be a big-play defense like (we were) in the past.

“A lot of the stuff we’ve been working on came together today.”

Cornerback Tyron Brackenridge made perhaps the most impressive individual play, intercepting a pass from fourth-string quarterback Cole Morgan and going 64 yards for a score. On offense, running back Jerome Harrison, the team’s most impressive individual player over the course of the spring, scored twice on runs from 6 and 4 yards out.

Punter Kyle Basler also impressed the crowd with kicks of 54, 55 and 56 yards, aided by a strong tailwind.

“Overall I was really pleased with our progress and I really like the attitude of this ballclub,” Doba said. “Spring ball is super important. People act like you don’t need it, but spring is when you teach fundamentals.”

Even with the defense having its day under the warm spring sun on Saturday, the offensive units were clearly more impressive over the course of the 15 practices and scrimmages, a welcome change after last year’s off-season workouts, when first downs were a rarity – not to mention touchdowns.

As a result, both Doba and his players have reason to look forward to the new season as they step away from the gridiron until fall practices begin in the first week of August.
“Most of the spring we did well,” senior center Nick Mihlhauser said. “We had the whole offense in and we found some key players to fill some spots. Now we’ll just be getting ready for the season.”

Notes
Defensive tackle Ropati Pitoitua, a sure-fire starter this fall and a possible breakthrough star for WSU, strained his right medial collateral ligament during the scrimmage. It’s serious enough that it appears Pitoitua will be out of action for 4 to 6 weeks, but the timing of the injury means it should have little effect on his preparations for the 2005 season. … Wide receiver Marty Martin also suffered a slight concussion and a neck strain after making a reception, but head trainer Bill Drake said it doesn’t appear to be anything serious. … Cornerback Alex Teems sat out the scrimmage – as he has for all the previous scrimmages this spring – to protect a sore neck. Teems is slotted to be the Cougars’ top cornerback. … Defensive end Adam West sat out the day with a hamstring injury.

STORY #2 – ticket sales on great pace, plus other notes, including no more FSN replays!?!:

PULLMAN – Washington State football season ticket sales are likely to exceed last year’s record-setting total, according to WSU director of external affairs Pete Isakson.
With the school still counting final season ticket renewal forms, it appears the Cougars will almost certainly push past the 15,447 sold in 2004. That was the most the school could sell because it had blocked out the remaining seats for other uses, but this year WSU has 1,000 additional seats – formerly part of the visiting school allotment – that will be dedicated to season tickets.

Isakson said during weekend that approximately 1,000 accounts had not been renewed, but the postmark deadline just passed Friday and WSU is still processing renewals. Already, there are more than 400 names on a waiting list, and each account could mean multiple season-ticket requests.

“Our hope is that we renew at that 90 percent clip. That’s kind of the clip you want to have year in and year out,” Isakson said. “And then our waiting list will help take care of the rest.”

Television changes
While the Pac-10 is instituting instant replay for all its conference games this fall, Fox Sports Northwest will no longer show replays of Cougars games on Sundays, as it has in recent years.
Isakson and athletic director Jim Sterk said FSN was getting low ratings on the replays and refused to include them in the contract renewed with WSU.

In return, however, the Cougars will be featured in a weekly magazine-style show on the network. The show will be a half hour and run at the same time each week, according to Isakson, though the exact time has not been worked out. Overall, WSU stands to gain from $50,000 to $75,000 a year under the new agreement.

For non-televised games, with no Fox crew present for the day-after replay, Isakson and Sterk said there will have to be at least three cameras set up by the school for the purposes of instant replay.

Notes
Isakson said the Cougars’ second game of the season, Sept. 9 at Nevada, has been confirmed as a nationally televised game on ESPN. Kckoff time has not been set, but it’s likely it will resemble WSU’s Friday night ESPN game last season at New Mexico, which started at 4 p.m. … Contracts have not been finalized with Fox Sports Northwest to televise the opener against Idaho on Sept. 1, but it appears to be just a matter of time before that deal is completed. … Sterk said the Grambling start will probably be in the late afternoon Sept. 17 at Seattle’s Qwest Field.

Finally, story #3 – New captains elected, with one notable exception:

PULLMAN — Washington State University has elected its captains for the 2005 football season, and this season one name not on the final list is as notable as those on it.

Middle linebacker Will Derting, a defensive captain last season, and punter Kyle Basler, a special teams captain, are both returning to the role as voted by their teammates on Wednesday. Joining them are two newcomers to the title on offense, tight end Troy Bienemann and running back Jerome Harrison.

But the list of four does not include quarterback Josh Swogger, a co-captain last season as a sophomore. “It’s a great honor just to have the respect of your teammates,” Bienemann said. “That’s the biggest thing, to be up there with guys like Will and Kyle who have been up there before. It’s still (Josh’s) team. It’s still his offense. He’s still the leader and, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still under him. He’s a go-to guy.”

All four of the players elected will be seniors this season, and all have already served as leaders on the field in some fashion. Derting, despite missing the spring, will receive more accolades than any other Cougars player this year, though he did have another unexpected surgery on his injured left wrist Friday morning, performed in Spokane.

Derting had one screw removed from the wrist and two pins added. The wrist, dislocated in August, was originally operated on in December. The recovery time is expected to be 6-8 weeks.
“We knew about mid-June he was going to be turning loose either way we went,” head trainer Bill Drake said of the decision for a second surgery. “You don’t want to be revising hardware in July or August. So it’s a good decision to do it now.”

The other captains, Bienemann, Harrison and Basler, are all returning starters who have had standout performances in spring practices.

Swogger was able to start just the first six games of last season before going down with a broken foot and didn’t participate in any contact drills this spring because of the continuing rehab. He’s also not guaranteed the starting job entering fall camp, as Alex Brink will receive a shot.
“He’s missed the whole spring, and out of sight, out of mind,” head coach Bill Doba said of Swogger, turning his attention to the four chosen this year. “They’re excellent kids, good leaders and good people. So we’re really happy with that.”

Swogger said he was a “little bit” disappointed to not be a repeat captain, but he’s been more frustrated by the inability to take the field for spring scrimmages. The junior quarterback unsuccessfully lobbied Doba to play in Saturday’s spring game, and must turn his attention to helping lead drills over the summer – captain or not.

“It is (humbling). But I wasn’t really expecting it,” Swogger said. “I’m just going to do everything I can in the summertime to take control of skellies and get guys out there, to get everything rolling and get things back to the point where the Cougars are winning bowl games.”